Bioethics Discussion Blog: What is Death with Dignity?

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

What is Death with Dignity?

The dictionary shows that the word is derived finally from Latin meaning worthy. The definition includes the following:


1. The quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect.
2. Inherent nobility and worth: the dignity of honest labor.
3.
a. Poise and self-respect.
b. Stateliness and formality in manner and appearance.
4. The respect and honor associated with an important position.
5. A high office or rank.

So one would wonder what is the expression used these days “death with dignity” could possibly mean. When we use dignity in that expression, surely we are not talking about a persons high office, rank or necessarily an important position nor would we be considering stateliness and formality in manner or appearance. We must be talking about being worthy or esteem or respect by others and also, perhaps, poise and self-respect.

Could these elements be what is missing when a death is not dignified? Can a person in great pain, suffering, perhaps mentally obtunded to varying degrees demonstrate personal poise and self-respect? Probably not. Beyond what the person is presenting as him/herself is what others consider is common consideration of all human beings: esteem, the holding a human as a high value for the potential of a human and respect, as a civilized notion, for the values, rights and beliefs of all persons. With regard to the dying person, this esteem and respect by others should be shown in care and concern about seeing that no further discomfort, anguish or alteration of the physical body, appearance or condition occurs. This esteem and respect should carry over to the person once deceased. If these elements of dignity expressed through the patient’s self or by others are missing then the death is undignified, something we, who are not in the patient’s condition at the moment, should not ignore.

I would appreciate other views from my visitors regarding what is meant by “death with dignity”. ..Maurice.

3 Comments:

At Monday, November 28, 2005 8:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Death with Dignity" is being able to die on your terms, your way, and on your time.

We are so anal about death and dying in this country.

In other countries - death is celebrated. Even suicide is acceptable when the person feels they have become a "burden" to their family, or have shamed the family name in some way. Suicide may also be seen as noble and the person may even be viewed as a hero - as in the days of the Kamikaze pilots.

All these "ethics" committees and what not - what a waste of time and energy.

Ethics can ONLY be defined by the person who it affects. NOBODY (especially a bunch of strangers in lab coats) has the right to define what is deemed to be "ethical" when it comes to making decisions about someone else's life!

"Ethics" committees are nothing more than humans playing God. Humans have tweaked the meaning of death to the point of it being nothing more than a political, litigious, agenda. The same goes for the definition of life and the beginning of life.

We need to behave more like the animal kingdom - when it is close to our time to go - be able to wander off into the woods and die peacefully however we want to die.

Perhaps this might be construed as an "utopian" view and somewhat unrealistic - but unrealistic ONLY because we humans have defined it that way.

Sincerely,
Angry Patients Anonymous
theangrypatient.com

 
At Monday, November 28, 2005 9:41:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

If every person could define ethical behavior by their own criteria, there would never be any ethical behavior within society. Ethics is defined not by ethicists nor by ethics committees. Ethicists and ethics committees only interpret or recommend possible actions in terms of what is ethical based on consensus of society itself (what definitions most people agree with) along with the laws which pertain. That means that it is the public who define ethical behavior for all of us. That is why there are differences in what is ethical depending on the country or culture where the ethics is developed.

You are correct in pointing out irrational ideas of what represents life and what is death in the U.S.A. culture. Keep expounding your views and you might affect some change in these ideas. ..Maurice.

 
At Friday, June 13, 2008 3:31:00 PM, Blogger Curator said...

The idea that disabled people somehow lack dignity is ludicrous. Not being able to walk or speak or control your excretory function has zero relevance to one's dignity. (The queen doesn't empty her own chamber pot, after all.) Felicia Ackerman discusses this in great detail in her excellent paper, in "Assisted Suicide, Terminal Illness, Severe Disability, and the Double Standard." Conditioning the right to die on terminal illness or disability reveals a bigoted (or at least fearful and irrational) attitude toward disabilities.

However, I am in favor of autonomy and the choice of when to die. Dr. Bernstein, individuals being able to decide for themselves what they value is extremely different from moral relativism and subjectivism. A perfectly non-subjectivist moral system could include inviolable rights for everyone and a wide ability for each person to choose his own values within that framework. The right to determine one's own values is not the same as the right to rape and murder everyone.

 

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