Monday 23 November 2015

Nigeria: Let us include the rite of the autopsy in the burying of the dead

Speculation was rife
The apparently sudden death of Prince Abubakar Audu who was more or less on the cusp of a gubernatorial victory has elicited much commentary on social media.
When the news of his death as we were awaiting the announcement of the electoral results first emerged, I was persuaded to overlook the breaking news and curb my curiosity for the frenzy to dissipate enough for the facts and the truth to emerge.
The only truth that has emerged from this tragic tale is that he is deceased and has been interred according to Islamic rites, everything else with regards to manner of death, cause of death and other extenuating factors has been a matter of accusation, supposition, speculation, conjecture, suggestion, rumour, innuendo and fable. This list is hardly exhaustive.
Nothing really was known
I cannot attribute anything, but in all the reports I have read, there has been mention of cardiac arrest, stroke, poisoning, paranormal activity, voodoo and all sorts of silliness. None of this helps the matter at all.
For all the enlightenment we have acquired, we tend to heighten our superstitious predilections at times of birth, at marriages and at death, even if our general lives are hardly lived in any recognised adherence to faith or religion and the tenets the books require us to espouse to be model examples of our belief systems to our common humanity.
Now, I have no medical training, but the most recent pictures of the man depicted an unhealthy pallor, very much like that of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua when he ailed with nephrological complications that led to his demise.
Besides looking overweight and other deleterious conditions that might evolve from that, it is very likely that there is a clear-cut medical condition that resulted in the man’s death.
Bound to ages gone
Yet, as we live in the 21st Century, our lives and livelihoods are majorly trumped by belief systems, traditions and cultures that have not evolved for many quincentenaries, that we fail to benefit from the knowledge, logic, reason and developments that have brought humanity to the amazing modernity and comforts of the present times.
One such area we fail to deploy at death is medical examination and autopsies, the advances in modern medicine can in most cases determine the cause of death, not only to put beyond doubt the rife speculations that surround a sudden death, but such knowledge in either a minor or major way can also help the living.
Knowledge from deaths
In cases of cancer, it might cause survivors to check if they might be susceptible to the same  type of cancer especially if there is a genetic predisposition to it. It might aid medical science in know what to look for if anyone presents symptoms that might lead to complications. This is a valuable knowledge that goes beyond the individual and the present tragedy to the greater good of humanity.
Part of what has given medicine the tools to treat many ailments has come from the study of the dead and much as it has from observation of the living. It is sad that one only has to leaf through the pages of a Nigerian newspaper to read obituaries of many of died of a brief illness. The brief illness is a catch-all term that covers everything from a fatal asthma attack, through epileptic fits to cancer discovered so late that nothing could be done beyond providing palliative hospice care.
Bringing reason to belief
Whilst there is nothing wrong with being religious, we allow religiosity to becloud both judgement and reason. In the absence of a modicum of reasonableness compounded by grief and loss, we accentuate a fanatical tendency to fatalism, providence and destiny allowing the burning questions to remain unanswered in submission to the primordial where ignorance becomes the cradle of bliss and succour.
Whether, there is a soul or not, once the force that animates and enlivens the body is gone, we have just a body in the process of decay and disintegration. We must respect the memory of the person departed and treat the body of the said departed with dignity, but there is no rule created in anticipation of the modern times that prevents gaining knowledge from an autopsy.
The rite of the autopsy
In times past, there were probably no means of preserving the dead, the Egyptians of old used mummification and embalmment for their pharaohs, other cultures found burial, cremation or some other means of disposing of their dead. Yet, we attach ourselves to age-old customs at our convenience when at other times we desperately avail ourselves of the benefits of medical science.
We need to rethink this clash of options and the time has come to include the autopsy in the burial rites and have civil law demand that where cause of death is inconclusive or death is sudden, internment will not proceed before medical examination, else the body will be exhumed for final determination.

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