The sitting judge at the Delhi High Court (take a bow, you wigged worthy) has just ruled that a woman is perfectly within her rights to donate any organ from her body to a cause she deems fit without seeking prior permission from her husband. In the legal argot so favoured by judges, it was noted that applicable rules did not mandate any ‘spousal consent’ in case of organ donation to a close relative. Adding, quite tersely, that ‘she is not a chattel, it is her body.’ Hear, hear. All you husbands out there contemplating sympathy from our justice system, you are duly warned. If your wife comes home one of these evenings and announces that she has just divested herself of one of her body parts in a good and noble cause, you cannot fly into a mad rage and start flinging the crockery around and haring off to courts. In this particular case, the body part concerned was one of the woman’s kidneys which she decided to donate to her father. Her kidney, her father, she may do as she pleases. No prior consent from her hubby required. As any student of medicine will tell you, a human being can lead a perfectly normal life with just one kidney, so what is all the fuss about? Two kidneys are not entirely surplus to requirements (they were placed there for a purpose) but push comes to shove, one is enough, ‘twill serve.
That appeared to be the broad view of the honourable judge of the Delhi High Court. Not sure if the estimable purveyor of justice, while pronouncing the verdict recalled Hamlet’s memorable line, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Had he done so, he would have been moved to paraphrase Shakespeare while admonishing the husband, ‘there are more things to worry about than your ego. Your wife donated her kidney to her dad. The matter ends there, the law does not require her to obtain an NOC from you, so let’s have less of your chauvinistic protests. Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist might think “the law is an ass,” but we beg to differ. Take her to a nice movie, and dine out afterwards. That’s the least you can do to show your appreciation to a noble gesture.’ Well said, m’lud. A judge after my own heart. Knows his Dickens as well.
This unambiguous ruling clearly puts the husband in a bit of a quandary. Taken as a precedent, as all judicial rulings generally are, husbands across the land will be fretting every time their wives come home late in the evening, wondering if they are in possession of all their anatomical parts with which they were born, or have they been scattering parts of their body to the winds, unmindful of domestic consequences? Enough to put any husband off his dinner. The following exchange could be a typical conversation at a couple’s home, after the husband returns late from work to an empty home, his wife yet to return from work. She is normally back earlier than her beau. He has just helped himself to a drink when their merry cocker spaniel lets out a piercing, happy yelp indicating that the good wife has just driven in. Dogs know these things. She lets herself in quietly.
The husband opens the proceedings. ‘Hullo darling, long day? You are never this late. You look a bit bushed. Everything all right?’
The wife, after dealing with the customary passionate greeting from the spaniel, responds. ‘Why do you ask? Why should everything not be all right?’
‘No, no, simply asking. Another tiring day at the office, eh? You normally get home by six, it’s half past eight now. Just wondered, that’s all. Are you sure you are feeling fine?’ The husband was obviously fishing and his better half could sense that.
‘You seem to be wondering about things a great deal. I come late one evening and you seem to be imagining all kinds of things. Precisely what is it that you are concerned about? I am not having an affair, if that’s what is bothering you.’ She was clearly a bit tetchy, and it showed.
‘That is uncalled for and beneath you. Look, any responsible husband would be concerned if his wife comes home unexpectedly late. You should be happy, not become irritable simply because I asked after your welfare. But since your brought it up, why have you covered your left ear with the end of your sari?’
‘What?’ The lady of the house was beginning to lose it.
‘Just curious, that’s all,’ replied the hubby trying to sound calm. ‘I mean, you normally never cover your head with the pallu, and yet here you are, only your left ear covered whereas the right ear is fully exposed and looks as normal as any right ear should. What gives?’
‘My dear husband of fifteen years, can you please explain what is behind this incoherent jabbering. Is that your first, or seventh large peg? You are not making any sense. Are your sodium levels dropping again? Should I call the GP?’
As she was making these inquiries after her husband’s health, the offending sari end dropped to her shoulder and it was plain that her left ear was fully in place. No bandage, no Van Gogh syndrome visible. While that brought him some relief, he now started worrying about other parts of her body. He muttered to himself, ‘thank heavens for that.’
She was beside herself. ‘Thank heavens for what? Look, I am going batty here. What is your problem, exactly? I’ve had a difficult day at the office, and I come home to this. Will you kindly explain what’s biting you? Perhaps we should drive you to the hospital and get a quick check up done.’
He calmed down. ‘Look my dear, let me come clean. I have been reading about how a judge in Delhi ruled that a wife need not seek her husband’s clearance to donate any part of her body to someone, especially her close relative, if she so desires. If you have any such intention, you will talk to me first, won’t you? Don’t think of it as seeking permission or anything like that, but just to let me know. A second opinion is always useful, if you wish to go through life without one of your big toes. Albeit in a good cause, of course.’
‘You really have gone bonkers. And you thought I might have donated my left ear to someone? I know where you are getting all this from. I too read the papers. That was a case of a woman who donated her kidney to help her father’s critical medical condition. The judge was merely emphasising that her husband’s permission was not mandated by law. End of. Tomorrow, God forbid, if you needed a kidney, would I not come forward, even without your permission?’
‘Thank you, light of my life. That is most comforting. I simply wanted to make sure you don’t suddenly turn up and go, “ta da, look ma, no hands.”’
‘I honestly think you are suffering from an acute case of paranoia. Every time I return late from work, you will start imagining me with something missing from my body. Lung perhaps? Eye, people do donate eyes, don’t they? You’ve already lopped off my left ear. Dread to think what else you’ve been chopping off. I would suggest you stop reading the papers. TV news is much better. You won’t follow anything for all the cacophony and you might even go to sleep.’
And so, in hundreds of thousands of households in India, similar heated exchanges are taking place even as this piece is being put to bed. The Delhi High Court ruling has set the cat among the pigeons and husbands are lying awake in their beds, tossing and turning restlessly, unable to sleep and wondering if their wives are levelling with them or is there something missing and they are in the dark? Last we heard on the subject many males of the species were examining their bodies closely to see if they can get rid of some unwanted parts without their wives knowing. After all, they now have a precedent. And judges love precedents.