About Aging With Dignity
The 21st century in America has seen a rapid advance in technology and sweeping changes in how medical and long-term care are administered. Patients and their families often feel powerless and don’t know whom to trust. They wonder if the financial considerations of health care providers and insurers are dictating the level of care they receive, and often feel powerless in the face of the ever-increasing complexity and sophistication of artificial intelligence and modern medicine.
For nearly 25 years Aging with Dignity has defended the God-given right of the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill to have their human dignity respected and safeguarded, particularly in times of serious illness. With offices in Washington and Tallahassee, the nationally-acclaimed non-profit has touched the lives of tens of millions of Americans and influenced public policy at both the state and national level. Its Five Wishes publication is America’s most popular advance care planning tool that has helped countless families get the kind of end-of-life care they desire. This legal document is available in 29 languages and is distributed by thousands of organizations throughout the country, from large hospitals to tiny churches.
INSPIRED BY MOTHER TERESA
Aging with Dignity was founded in 1996 by Jim Towey when he was legal counsel to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whom he first met in Calcutta in 1985. During her lifetime she wrote in support of Aging with Dignity and urged Towey to “defend and protect life, the most beautiful gift of God and to bring God’s love and compassion to the elderly poor.” She added, “There are among us so many who are poor and elderly, in need of our understanding, respect, love and compassion, especially if they are sick, handicapped, helpless or alone.”
Towey took her advice to heart, and since the very beginning, Aging with Dignity has remained faithful to its important mission. The organization’s core principle is that every person has a right to age with dignity. This right is embedded in the heart and soul of every person regardless of their health, wealth, race or creed. It is not conferred by government but instead by God. Those who face grave medical circumstances deserve a better choice than pain or poison. They should not be defined by their diagnosis or incapacitation. Their lives are a gift from God, not a burden to society. Aging with Dignity believes they should be treated that way.
What We Believe
- Every person has the right to age with dignity.
- This right is conferred by God, not government, and exists regardless of one’s health, wealth, race or creed.
- The primary need of every human is to love and be loved and this is most acutely true in times of increased dependence on others.
- People are gifts from God, not burdens to society. They are not defined by their diagnosis or incapacitation, or less valuable when they are sick.
- Dying is not simply a medical moment but a deeply personal, spiritual and emotional time.
- Patients have the right to decide the kind of medical treatment they want or don’t want when they are gravely ill.
- Assisted-suicide and euthanasia are not compassionate choices for those suffering; better pain management, accompaniment, and humane treatment are.
- Improving end-of-life care and decision-making is urgently needed, particularly for the elderly poor, disabled and mentally ill who cannot afford their illnesses.
- Those who suffer and are near death deserve the warmth of human accompaniment.
- Advances in “tech medicine” and artificial intelligence can help as long as people are its masters, and robots do not replace human beings in the provision of health and long-term care.
21st CENTURY CHALLENGES
Modern medical care has become increasingly depersonalized, and the rapid advance of artificial intelligence threatens to further de-humanize health care. Aging with Dignity responds to these challenges by helping Americans know how to assert their rights and get the care they deserve. Through its educational programs, advocacy efforts, toll-free hotline, advance care planning, and free membership services, Aging with Dignity has become a reliable friend they can trust. It has maintained its independence and receives no grants or funding from government, health care providers, insurance companies, or others with a financial stake in the decisions patients and their families make.
Some groups today propose assisted suicide and euthanasia, and others defend medical practices that often lead to the provision of futile care and the artificial prolongation of the dying process. Aging with Dignity rejects either of these unacceptable extremes and instead promotes an alternative vision that protects the right of patients to make informed decisions and receive humane care worthy of their greatness as children of God.
Helping to make dignified care a reality for all.
- Aging with Dignity is founded in Florida, the epicenter of aging in America; foundation grants and private donations provide the start-up funds for the new non-profit.
- Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles introduces Five Wishes in the state and the Miami Herald describes it as the “living will with a heart and soul.”
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver joins founder Jim Towey at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to introduce Five Wishes nationally. Towey appears on the NBC “Today Show” as demand for Five Wishes surges.
- Aging with Dignity successfully intercedes with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and blocks enactment of the recommendation of a statewide panel seeking to dilute patient protections in end-of-life care laws. He later provides Five Wishes to all state employees, and in subsequent years, the governors of Maryland, Wisconsin, Nevada and other states promote it.
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards a large grant to Aging with Dignity to expand distribution of Five Wishes from the bedside to the workplace. Circulation of the document hits one million.
- Federated Investors, Fannie Mae, the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, Delta Airlines and 3M begin providing Five Wishes to their employees as demand grows.
- Aging with Dignity featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN broadcasts, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Time magazine, in time of heightened public interest from the Terri Schiavo case. Over 2 million Five Wishes are distributed in this year alone.
- Malley secures funding from the United Health Foundation to translate Five Wishes into other languages; today it is available in 29 languages and in Braille, and is used in Italy, China, Japan, Norway, the Philippines and Australia.
- My Wishes, a conversation tool for seriously ill children, premiers at the National Child Life Conference in Dallas, Texas. Voicing My Choices is later developed for use among adolescents and young adults.
- Towey’s advocacy in the Wall Street Journal and on “Fox News Sunday” successfully leads nationwide opposition to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs so-called “Death Book,” which steered veterans toward refusing life-support treatment.
- A major National Institutes of Health study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine demonstrates that Five Wishes helps reduce anxiety among seriously ill adolescents and young adult users.
2011 to 2020
- Towey and Malley testify before a U.S. Senate committee to make doctor-patient advance care discussions reimbursable; the federal government later adopts this policy change.
- Aging with Dignity partners with VITAS, Geisinger Healthcare, Humana, Sibley Hospital, Johns Hopkins Healthcare, WellSpan Health System, Long Beach Memorial, and Sparrow Healthcare to expand Five Wishes use.
- Malley’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, and a front-page New York Times story touting Five Wishes, further establish Aging with Dignity’s as the premier advocate for the elderly at the end-of-life.
- The Carnegie-Mellon University and Duke University in separate studies examine aspects of Five Wishes use, including among members of the African-American community.
- The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine publishes research that documents the “user-friendly” effectiveness of Five Wishes in patient-clinician conversations.
- More than 35 million copies of Five Wishes are in national circulation, distributed by 40,000 partner organizations across the country; Five Wishes now meets the legal requirements of 44 states and remains usable in all 50.
- During the coronavirus crisis, the Washington Post publishes a Towey opinion piece advocating for compassion for the elderly. Aging with Dignity offers Five Wishes free to all when the crisis began and thousands requested copies immediately.
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