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Human Dignity Is at the Cornerstone of the Relationship Between a Health Service Provider and a Patient

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The essay title brought to me a number of memories of when I was a patient myself for some days in a psychiatric hospital. I can’t clearly remember what I was going through but I can definitively say it was one of the most painful period I survived in my life. It was not only the issues I was dealing with in my life that made it a painful period but the pathetic mental health system I went through made it worst. Suddenly I was not longer considered a person who knew and felt what was the best for me and was locked up against my will, because I was not behaving in a way that was “acceptable.”

I clearly remember my family not knowing exactly what is going on, apart from the different diagnosis given. Also at hospital, especially as I got better, I can remember how the patients did not mean much to the health service providers and how patients, especially in the mental health field, are treated without dignity. But what is dignity?

Merriam-webster dictionary defines dignity as the quality of being worthy of honor or respect. Human dignity is the idea that every human has inherent worth irrespective of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, property or other status. The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists that the dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God.

Another definition, that provided by Law, Human Dignity is an individual or group's sense of self-respect and self-worth, physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Our view of our own dignity or worth can be compromised by an over-concern with what others think of us or of our work. Haddock (1996) stated that dignity is the ability to feel important and valuable in relation to others, communicate this to others, and be treated as such by others and patients in hospital, though vulnerable and dependant as they may be, still have their own successes and achievements. Though at this moment in time they are weak and fragile, this is only temporary. All humans have to face the reality of death and dying.

Jacelon (2003) found that the older people entered hospital with their self-dignity already established. Initially patients focused on their health but as that stabilized they became more concerned about their dignity, which was affected by hospital procedures and staff interactions with them. Self-dignity is based on past achievements and evidenced by patients' own behavior; it is an internal concept, while interpersonal dignity was described as being treated with respect by others, particularly hospital staff.

Presentation of self is also through personal behavior and Jacelon (2003) identified that self-dignity is portrayed through one's behavior. Specific types of behavior include courage and generosity (Kass, 2002), composure and restraint (Jacelon et al., 2004; Kolnai, 1995), courteousness (Jacelon et al., 2004), trustworthiness and solemnity (Jacobs, 2000) and giving love and support to others (Jacelon et al., 2004).

According to Pope John Paul II, in the Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” the world is becoming a deceptive place and the medical profession is now becoming distorted and contradicted with a tragic end result, not only of lost human lives but now with the darkening of conscience, making it difficult to distinguish between right and wrong especially on items regarding the basics of human life.

In this essay I shall try to bring out examples on how dignity is a twofold process, dignity towards the patients, and dignity towards the health care providers.

Dignity is the basis of human rights but at the same time it is a duty, the medical professionals are accountable for their deeds toward the patients. The Medical Professionals have to give the best possible service (Section 257 of Criminal Code of Malta Cap9). Dignity also includes the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to promote competence, and to continue personal and professional growth. In fact medical professionals are encouraged to pursue their studies which can lead to more scientific research.

In the public sector, health care providers have no choice as to the patients they see. Sometimes they are faced with bizarre behaviours, and hostile patients. Some can be such a treat to the health care professionals, and pose a safety hazard. Here a balance has to be reached between own safety, the well-being of the client and the other staff that are working in the environment (Malta Health Act –patients’ safety and rights, article 28). This also brings another point as a big ethical consideration is often unnoticed. Each one of the health care professional is in a hierarchy, and thus from someone on a low status, then unprofessional behaviour as well as incompetency of certain staff is often seen. This

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