When you think about dignity, people often think about disability and losing independence. Many people see dignity in the simplest of terms – being able to wash yourself, dress yourself and use the toilet independently, and when you cannot do these things, you lose your dignity. However, dignity is a much broader concept than just personal care.
Living with dignity. The phrase gets thrown around in health and social care and the world of disability. But what does that actually mean? Contrary to popular belief, not being able to wash or use the toilet without help isn’t the only loss and not necessarily the biggest loss of dignity to many disabled people. It goes beyond just that. Living with dignity means having a dignified life.
Let’s consider the meaning of the word dignity: ‘the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect‘.
As you can see, dignity is far more than just being able to wipe your own bottom independently. Dignity, in its essence, is what we all crave: to be respected. To feel worthy. To deserve and have the ability to live a good life. And to have all of these things regardless of who you are, disability, race, gender/gender identity, ethnicity and age.
Loss of dignity affects us both physically and mentally. The loss of dignity can be as broad as not having the respect of those around you, and not feeling worthy. Or it can be as deep as a disabled person being placed in a care home against their will, unable to live their life and not having the treatment, respect or support they need – and deserve – to have a good quality of life.
Being mistreated, made to feel not worthy of care, of life, of quality, and made to feel like a burden. That is a great loss of dignity, the loss of worthiness, being made to feel or told you don’t deserve to live a good life, and being mistreated or disrespected because you have a disability.
With budget cuts, people are being stripped of their dignity, behind closed doors, with terrifying voracity. Having their support taken away, being forced into care homes, or forced to wear nappies so they don’t need someone to take them to the toilet. This obliteration of people’s dignity is unnecessary, unfair, and breaches their human rights.
It is justified in the name of money and reducing cost. This is one of the worst kinds of inhumane treatment, because you are stripping away the person’s self-worth in the process, you are disrespecting them in the worst way possible. You are telling them they are not worthy, not important and don’t deserve to have quality of life, to have dignity, to have respect, to have choice, to have anything. You are simply a financial burden. Our budget matters more than your rights, your needs and your dignity. And, sadly, we are expected to put up with it.
My dignity has been under threat on a number of occasions. I have lost all dignity at times. I have battled against a system that treats me as a financial burden, a complex patient who costs ‘too much’. I have been told supporting me to live at home is unfair to others, that my package could provide care to more than one person. So, basically, because those people cost less, they are more worthy than I am. How can you put a price on quality of life?
I have even asked those decision-makers, if it were them, would they be happy to be stuck in a bed, in a care home full of old people (at the age of 21 as I was at the time), unable to ever leave that room, not even for my (medically vital) hospital appointments? No outings, no holidays, no time with family, no social life, just you, in a room, for the rest of your life. Unable to meet any of your needs yourself and dependent upon staff who cannot give you the one-to-one care you medically require? The answer? “That’s different”. This translates to: if they were in my position, they would be more worthy than me of the support I have. I am lucky I am able to fight for myself, know my rights and have an absolutely fantastic advocate on my side. I secured the package I need, albeit I am about to do battle again for increased support.
Dignity is a very broad concept which applies to us all, to be worthy, to be honoured, to be respected; it is not a narrow application which only applies to independence and the ability to carry out personal care. Loss of dignity applies to the loss of worthiness and respect. This can apply to anyone, not just disabled person, but recent events due to budget cuts has meant a person’s dignity is no longer of value to those in charge. As long as they save money, who cares about a person’s dignity? In their actions they show us, in their words they tell us, that we do not deserve and are not worthy of a life, of quality of life, of support, and of respect.
Nowadays, money trounces dignity. Savings outstrips support. Respect for human life, dignity and human rights is unimportant, forgotten, overthrown. What a sad world we live in.