Notes on hope #1

Dignity.
From the Latin dignitas, meaning worth.
The title of songs by Deacon Blue and Bob Dylan.
A word often paired with death.
A right asserted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A value inseparable, according to Immanuel Kant, from the nature of humanity itself.
To be human and alive is to have dignity, or worth.


I’ve been thinking a bit about dying with dignity recently. Not that I am planning my death. It just seems to keep cropping up in my thoughts.
I thought about it on Wednesday when the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was not going to prosecute the parents of 23 year old Daniel James, and when they debated the rights and wrongs of showing the assisted suicide of 59 year old Craig Ewart on Radio 4’s Today programme.
I thought about it on Tuesday when I heard that one of the young people I used to work with tragically took an overdose and died, aged 17, after battling clinical depression throughout his teens.
I wondered if there is ever any dignity in suicide, regardless of the reason?
I thought about it a couple of weeks ago when I read about 13 year old Hannah Jones who won a court battle to refuse a heart transplant and live out the rest of her days with her family.
I wonder how someone so young could make such a firm choice about how she lives her life.
I thought about it just over a month ago when I spoke to Denise Cooper about how her terminally ill husband was nursed through the final stages of brain cancer at home.
I wonder how much more dignified it is to die surrounded by your family than surrounded by machines and monitors.
I thought about it on Armistice Day, and wondered whether dying for your country retains any dignity. Did the days of patriotic sacrifice end with the realities and indignities of modern warfare?
Like I say, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.
And the conclusion I’ve come to is that dignity in death doesn’t come from the way you die, where you die, how you die, or why you die. Dignity in death comes from the life you live until you die, the worth you believe yourself to have, regardless of what state you find yourself in. Which rules out suicide in any form as a dignified end, or the impersonal death of a hospital ward, or the death of a soldier in a meaningless war.
Because dying with dignity doesn’t mean going with a good quality of health, or in a grand gesture, but dying with love for others and having been loved, being full of hope rather than despair, believing your life had a purpose and a meaning that had been fulfilled.
To believe there is no purpose or meaning to your life is to lose the will to live. To believe there is no hope is to lose the will to live. To believe that no-one could or does love you or that you have no one to love is to lose the will to live.
So these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


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One response to “Notes on hope #1

  1. Curious. Are you saying that all wars are meaningless and that all soldiers who die in battle are eclipsed for nothing? Equally, are all deaths in hospital without dignity, when circumstance may dictate a patient cannot be at home, albeit that in death they have family on the ward and by their side?

    More to the point, are these generalisations? Surely not…

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