The Journey, Eleventh Overlook: Dignity

He would have been thirty-three next month; and though his back never left his sheets, he died with no bedsores. He outlived at least two of the doctors who said that he would surely die before he was five, and the eight, and then twelve. They didn’t count on Oliver’s devoted parents. (POTP p. 105)

Dignity is the quality or state of being worthy…

I rarely think about dignity, but when I do, being dignified comes to mind.

I'm the one with the goofy smile at the top of the stairs.

Taking part in “Social” was all about becoming dignified – proper handshakes, professional etiquette, being a lady or a gentleman, and mastering the waltz.

Webster says we can show dignity in defeat. Behavior again – showing respect for the opponent, accepting responsibility for the loss, staying positive.

Dignity – being worthy of something – is now earned by our behavior. If we meet the standard, we’re worthy of respect. Conveniently, my granting you dignity earns me the respect of my peers, who dignify me with praise. We’re dancing a dance of dignity, while the undignified – those we choose to disregard or defame – sit on the outside with a blank dance card.

When Mr. and Mrs. De Vinck looked at Oliver they saw dignity. They knew he was worthy – worthy of love and compassion, worthy of  being rotated, fed, and read to. What has happened to this inherent dignity?

A Trojan Horse was built with the lumber of earned dignity and we welcomed it into our lives. The horse emptied, and inherent dignity was abducted while we slept. The mercenary idea of earning dignity costumed itself with inherent dignity’s clothes and we woke up in the dark. The disabled, the unborn, and the abandoned were robbed of their inherent dignity. Many are robbed of their life.

Oliver’s doctors didn’t count on his parents, so they guessed he wouldn’t live past five. Today, doctors take the guess-work out of it by being the usher of death themselves. “Your baby has Down’s Syndrome, are you aware of your options?” Reflect on the implications of that sentence for a moment. The baby in your womb has an extra chromosome, therefore, it’s not worthy… of a chance, of a future, of life. It has no dignity.

What if technology were to improve and we could detect that a child would rebel as a teenager; would we abort her to save the headache?

What if we could see that the baby would die from cancer just after his third birthday; would we abort him to save the heartache?

What if we find a test that identifies autism in the womb? Blindness? Dwarfism? Low IQ? Hormone induced obesity? Freckles?

When we disregard inherent dignity, and instead ration it out to those we deem worthy, only the Normal survive.

She could, in defense of her actions, say: the loss of life of the aborted fetus is outweighed by the gain of a better life for the normal child who will be conceived only if the disabled one dies.”
– Peter Singer [source]

The history of prenatal diagnosis has roots in the eugenics movement, in various attempts to “improve the race.” It is certainly one of the less flattering lights in which to view prenatal diagnosis, but part of its history has been an attempt to control the gates of life: to decide who is, and who is not, fit to make a contribution to the “gene pool.” – Barbara Katz Rothman [source]

The reason Oliver’s doctors didn’t count on his parents is because they believed dignity was something to be earned. The reason Oliver lived all those years with no bed sores is because his parents knew the truth – dignity is not ours to give, and it’s not ours to earn. Conception makes us worthy of love and compassion.

Were the De Vincks being heroic? I guess you could say that. But perhaps identifying them heroes is perpetuating the lie. Oliver’s parents didn’t consider themselves heroes; they simply accepted their joyful responsibility as parents. Oliver was their son and he deserved to be cared for because he was human, because he was worthy, because he had dignity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s