Ron Panzer
June 30, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

Shame is something that people silently endure. It can be inexpressibly painful and something familiar to every health care professional as well as patient. At any stage of life, shame has many faces.

If you've ever cared for the elderly, the severely disabled or the chronically ill, as I have, you know the look, the unspoken shame. Shame at being naked before another who is not a lover, not a parent, not family. Shame at being other than what you once were. Shame at being unable to do the things you used to do or that others do. Shame at needing help to stand, needing help to sit, needing help to eat.

When your mind is clear, well, as clear as can be expected, and you realize the truth of life, you know that we leave life much the same as we entered. And for quite a long time you've seen your life drifting away bit by bit like grains of sand being blown in the wind.

The strong young man with strapping muscles now stumbles to walk even one step. The beautiful woman's face becomes wrinkled with age. Once proud, thinking old age would never visit, she wishes for the days gone by, when men could not take their eyes off her, when desire filled her heart. Memories remain, some that comfort and some that torment.

Shame arises when a person feels they are "less." Less than what they once were, what they wanted to be, what they should be. Shame is felt when a person is treated as less than what they once were, what they would like to be, what someone else thinks they "should" be. Shame is felt when a person is treated as less than what they still are, a human being.

But shame is a cowardly adversary. Shame flees from a caring heart, a gentle touch, a wiped tear, a cleansed body, a smile.

Shame flees from a respectful gaze: simple recognition, an acknowledgement that you are a fellow human being, an indication that someone, someone at all cares. The vacant stare becomes a suddenly animated glow, alive once more.

People are not ashamed to be in pain; though we do everything we can to relieve it. They are ashamed to not be seen, not be heard, not be known. Those who would kill the dying, the disabled, the elderly or chronically ill ... those who would kill these vulnerable ones are already dead themselves. They don't recognize the life before them and they don't live the life they have. All they know is death and how to kill. They don't know love, and therefore they shame everyone they come in contact with.

Black-robed councils hide behind each other's black robed decisions, finding strength in unified evil. Those who advocate the killing of the innocents have no shame, but should be ashamed. Their cold, short-sighted vision gives birth to twisted and circuitous reasonings that defy common sense, common decency and the basic rights of man. Their decisions and actions have no basis in logic, science or decent society. Decadent, perverted, and low, they reward each other's power over others at all costs, protecting the abuser, not the abused.

Shame. Those who are concerned about preventing shame and promoting a death with dignity, those who feel a need to "help" people die sooner need have no concerns. In their deluded minds, they think that killing the living is a solution for the living, yet all that is needed is to love the living, care for the ones still here, and then, there is no shame, neither for the living nor for the dying nor the dead.

The Hospice Patients Alliance is a 501(c)(3) charitable patient advocacy organization acting to preserve the original hospice mission and to promote quality end-of-life services.