I founded Aging with Dignity 24 years ago because I believe the right to age with dignity is conferred by God, not government, and must be respected and protected.
Why do I say that? The creation story in the first book of the Bible makes this clear: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he crated them” (Genesis 1:27). Isaiah the great prophet writes, “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” And Christian Scripture places on the lips of the angel Gabriel in announcing the conception of Jesus to Mary, his mother, the words, “Great will be His dignity.”
Yes, great is our dignity because by God’s favor we are endowed with this inalienable majesty which adheres to our very being and can never be taken away – not by sickness or advanced age or the efforts of others or ourselves to degrade it. The mark of God on our soul is indelible.
So each of us has a right to age with dignity, and also, a duty to safeguard and protect this right from the many systems and attitudes that disregard God and God’s creative majesty. Such forces seek to reduce human beings to merely biological matter as if mere subjects of science, as if God does not exist. This helps explain why our own country often pushes to the margins of society the elderly poor, the handicapped and the mentally ill, as if their lives are less valuable or worthy of protection.
Aging with Dignity was founded at the urging of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I had the privilege to work for her for 12 years as legal counsel and volunteer. In fact Mother Teresa wrote me a letter in support of the non-profit I established and urged me “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.” She closed by asking God to bless the work of Aging with Dignity.
And God surely has! The Five Wishes advance directive I created has a circulation of over 37 million copies and is available in 29 languages, and is changing the way Americans plan for, talk about and receive end-of-life care. Aging with Dignity receives no funding from government or from any of the health care players. We are an advocate for patients and their families, and particularly for those at the end of life who are especially vulnerable.
If you are reading this, then consider yourself part of the Aging with Dignity family. Tens of millions of Americans now benefit from the work we do, and soon we will have a membership organization in place to be an even more impactful advocate. Mother Teresa expects nothing less!
Founder and Chief Executive Officer