Suriia Das has done almost everything he can for his wife, Sarojini Jayapal. But he is not about to give up just yet, even though those around him have told him that he needs to prepare for the worst.
You see, his 47-year old wife is suffering from stage 4 cancer, an illness which she has been battling the last 2 and a half years. Initially given just a few months to live, the fiesty woman has outlived that prognosis, determined to survive and win the fight, spurred by the love her husband has shown her.
But the toll the illness has taken on her is obvious. Once a bubbly, healthy wife, full of life and joy, Sarojini is now a physically weak and scrawny vision of that. Her stomach is bloated, a sign that the cancer has grown in aggressiveness; and the loss of weight is a result of the inability to take in food.
Her frequent visits to the doctor’s and hospital for treatment have added an extra strain on the couple financially. Suriia has had to resort to borrowing to afford the treatments, on top of having to pay the house bills and caring for their teenage son. To date, Suriia has borrowed from family, friends, moneylenders, his company, and has even taken to online crowdfunding efforts.
But dealing with a terminal illness is like trying to find the bottom of a bottomless pit. The couple have exhausted their own Medisave savings. Short of selling their HDB flat to raise funds, there is little else they can do.
Which is why Suriia asked the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board to allow him to use his other CPF savings (in his Ordinary and Special accounts) to be used to pay for his wife’s medical treatment.
Under the CPF Act, the Board has discretion to decide whether to allow this, and after considering Suriia’s request, the Board turned down his request.
“While we empathise with your situation, we are sorry that we are unable to accede to your request,” the Board told Suriia in its reply to his request. “The savings in your various CPF accounts are for specific uses. Savings in the Ordinary Account and Special Account are primarily for housing and retirement respectively. Therefore, these CPF savings cannot be used to pay for medical expenses.”
But Suriia, who works as an operations manager with a salary of about $3,000, says that his house has already been fully paid, and so he does not need his CPF for that purpose; and his retirement is some years away. His priority is to ensure that his wife gets the medical care she needs.
Suriia has thus taken the case to the courts, in an appeal for the courts to declare that the CPF Board’s rejection of his request is irrational and deprives his wife a right to life, which is a constitutional guarantee under Article 9(1) of Singapore’s Constitution.
The central question in this case would affect all CPF members: who, ultimately, should have the right to decide how members’ CPF savings – whether they are in the Medisave, Ordinary, or Special accounts – could be used?
It is thus a case which everyone should pay attention to.
Whichever way the courts decides, the medical prognosis for Sarojini has not improved. In fact, it seemed to have worsened, and friends have advised Suriia to be prepared for what looks increasingly inevitable.
Suriia loves his wife very much, and in 2017, about 6 months after the initial diagnosis of Sarojini’s ovarian cancer, he threw a surprise birthday party for her, to cheer her up.
In that celebration, Suriia renewed their wedding vow, with the “in sickness and in health” part of the pledge holding special meaning and significance for him. No matter what, he would stand by her.
During Thaipusam, the Hindu festival, Suriia also participated in the purification rituals, praying to the gods to help save his wife.
“She is everything to me,” Suriia told RAVision. “She is everything I am living for.”
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