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Author calls for greater respect of human dignity in health care


This is the book cover of "Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality" by Charles C. Camosy. The book is reviewed by Kurt Jensen. (CNS photo/courtesy New City Press)


By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service


        "Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality" by Charles C. Camosy. New City Press (Hyde Park, New York, 2021). 224 pp., $22.95.

        I had occasion recently to sign my own "do not resuscitate" directive before surgery.

        All very standard, I was assured. A friendly member of the hospital staff thrust it my way, told me what it was and I signed it without reading any of it. (Who reads anything in an emergency room before the anesthesia kicks in?)

        I had no time to think about whether the people involved in making such a momentous decision were moral or had my best interests at heart, and events all turned out happily, anyway, as they quite often do.

        Charles C. Camosy, an associate professor of ethics at Fordham University, covers some of that ground in his thought-provoking "Losing Our Dignity," in which he argues for a more compassionate health care system based on respect for human dignity.

        Medical decisions, he observes, have been warped by "deeply secularized and irreligious forces."

        This includes more protection for disabled patients marginalized when they're determined to be in a vegetative state, the unborn and those suffering from neurodegenerative disease and dementia.

        This is an essential read for anyone put in the position, however reluctantly, of being the family caretaker. Camosy seeks to bring hope as well as comfort, and he makes an intelligent, trenchant argument for keeping one's moral decisions intact and without compromise.

        Observing what few have in decades -- that the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand, had more to do with protecting the liability of doctors rather than the health of the mother -- Camosy concludes, "The authority of medicine and of physicians, along with a concern to protect them from prosecution, cannot be overstated as motivating factors."

        As for late-stage dementia patients, he concludes, "We have put ourselves on a cultural trajectory which leads naturally and logically to claiming that millions of human beings with a profound intellectual disability do not have fundamental equality with the rest of us."

        Camosy does more than outlining the problems. Taking a conversational tone, he outlines some strategies "for turning the cultural tide." Most of these have to do with accepting personal responsibility, including making "choices about housing, debt and living situations that allow us to care for our parents or other older family members."

        Better funding of nursing homes, he argues, will enable the hiring of "more health care providers who have the time and incentive to respect the dignity of their patients."

        Finally, Camosy asserts, "Can we stop being embarrassed about our religious beliefs in public contexts and respectfully but firmly request an equal seat at the table of dialogue? Can we look for overlapping consensus, but refuse to translate our views (using someone else's moral language) into a milquetoast version of what we actually believe in our hearts?"

        Now, he argues, "is not the time to be arrogant and dismissive, but it also not a time to be hesitant and timid."

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