Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What "Dignity" Means to Me

Words mean something to me. I don’t speak them flippantly and I expect others to mean what they say. When I say “a patient deserves dignity” there is a particular meaning I am referring to, and I am finding that the pro-euthanasia community is using that same word-dignity-but in a whole different context. I believe everyone deserves respect whether they are wearing a three piece Italian suit and Rolex or a blue cotton gown. Just because a person swaps their clothes for a hospital issued gown does not mean mutual respect got checked at the door and they are fair game for inhuman treatment from the hospital staff. Whether the patient arrived walking straight-backed or hunched over a cane makes little difference to their worth as a person. Whether they are black or white, American or Asian, the treatment given should be the same. This is my definition of dignity. And if I were to speak of a person dying in dignity, that would include ensuring the patient received privacy, respect, and compassion until they exhaled the last bit of oxygen in their disease ravaged body.

Unfortunately, the pro-euthanasia community believes ‘dying in dignity’ means to put someone out of their misery through lethal injection. Much as you would put down a dog or cat or horse after a fatal injury, they believe a terminally ill patient has the right to ask for a life ending fatal dose of medication. This is humane, in their view, as it avoids unnecessary pain that is sure to accompany the life ending process of some diseases. Much as I would like to debate euthanasia based on several factors, (including I don’t believe in playing God when it comes to intentionally orchestrating death or legalizing the right to allow others to decide when the situation is right to euthanize) I do want to point out that dignity can mean different things to different people and is used in various contexts.

The dictionary defines dignity as “a sign or token of respect”, and respect is defined as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person”. My mission within the world of medical advocacy couldn’t be defined any clearer-I believe a person has worth and is entitled to special treatment based on that worth. It is unmerited and based solely on the fact we are all civilized human beings deserving of such treatment. When you look at my business card and it reads “Everyone has value, everyone deserves dignity” I do not speak in the same capacity as the pro-euthanasia community. My meaning is clear and concise-you have value and you deserve dignity just because you are you. As a patient, you have the right to expect the medical community will do all it can to increase your life, not take it from you. The knowledge and training and technology offered in a hospital should be used to do nothing but enhance life.

If I sound idealistic and unaware of the logistics of the gray areas, trust me, I know. However, nothing can convince me that dignity of a person should include an untimely death based on a lack of will to continue living. I would like to see the medical community fight against the political and social arguments that the best of tools in the right hands should be used for anything other than preserving life.

Make no mistake about the context in which this activist uses the word “dignity”. It includes any and every thing associated with life and love and the power of both.

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