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February 4, 1974

Illness and Indignity

Author Affiliations

From the State University of New York, Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, NY.

JAMA. 1974;227(5):543-545. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230180041010

ALL OF us in the health professions share certain fundamental aspirations and goals, among which the most important ones are keeping the healthy person healthy; restoring the sick person to health; and, most generally, safeguarding and prolonging life. That these ends are so overwhelmingly good and noble is what makes their pursuit so gratifying, and those in the health professions so richly honored and rewarded.

Life would be simpler than it is if health and longevity were its only, or even its principal, purposes; or, to put it differently, if there were no goals or values that often conflict with their pursuit. One of the values that men and women—and children, too—cherish, and that often conflicts with their pursuit of health at any cost, is dignity.

Dignity is, of course, that ineffable and yet obvious quality of human encounters and situations that enriches the participants' self-esteem. For example, in these