Dignity, Sickness, and Suffering

Amy Hasbrouck, the executive director of Toujours Vivant/Not Dead Yet Canada, recently wrote a terrific piece on the ways in which journalists sometimes (often?) distort the realities of assisted suicide and euthanasia when they report on it.

She takes as her jumping off point an HBO Vice “Right to Die” segment, which she finds to be propaganda rather than journalism.

Particularly helpful in Hasbrouck’s article is the attention she draws to ways in which dignity is set in opposition to disability.

the producers had their minds made up on the issue before they began to explore it, and so neglected to portray the arguments against assisted suicide and euthanasia fairly. They played upon public fears of becoming disabled, using the term ‘dignity’ as the opposite of disability, and implying that the only way to retain control in one’s life was to have assisted death.

This kind of view is not only false, it is harmful — and even dangerous — to make the mistake of thinking that disability (or sickness or suffering of any kind) leave people without dignity.

All human beings have an innate and irreducible dignity. All deserve equal respect and treatment. No human being lacks human dignity.

It is possible to be treated in ways inconsistent with one’s dignity. It is possible to lose sight of one’s own dignity. But actual human dignity is never lost. Part of the work of medicine is to aid in maintaining one’s sense of dignity, and to restore that sense of dignity if it is ever endangered.

So watch out for those who would pit dignity against disability, disease, or any kind of suffering. It is false and it is dangerous.

Image by Leonard J Matthews via flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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