Aging with Dignity was founded “to affirm and safeguard the human dignity of individuals as they age, and to promote better care for those near the end of life.” The term “human dignity” has become a commonplace in our culture, which is a great achievement, but sometimes it’s important to step back and reflect on the meaning of words we can sometimes take for granted.
The English word dignity comes from the Latin word, dignitas, which means “worthiness.” Dignity implies that each person is worthy of honor and respect for who they are, not just for what they can do. In other words, human dignity cannot be earned and cannot be taken away. It’s an inalienable gift given to us by God, and every other good thing in life depends on the safeguarding of our fundamental dignity. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it, “recognition of the inherent dignity…of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
When we are sick, disabled or at the end of life, we especially can feel our own worth is threatened as we lose certain freedoms we once enjoyed; lose a sense of bodily control; suffer the paralysis of pain; or face the fear of death. Aging with Dignity’s mission, which is profoundly shaped by the Judeo-Christian faith traditions, operates out of the conviction that not only does each person possess a unique dignity, but that we are also “our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.” That’s precisely why we created Five Wishes, to ensure not only that every person has a rightful voice in determining their own medical care, but also to help build up around each person a community of love, faith and compassionate support that honors their dignity at the time they find themselves most vulnerable.
Our hope at Aging with Dignity is to contribute to the building up of a culture of compassionate community in which the dignity of every life threatened by a sense of isolation or powerlessness in the face of old age or terminal illness is safeguarded. Join us in our work of building.
Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.