Dignity is a foundational value

It’s an interesting word ‘dignity’.

Dignity is a foundational value in human rights, ethics, politics, philosophy and respectful maternity care.

Dignity is a guiding value in medical ethics and features prominently in  codes of medical ethics – the Declaration of Helsinki, the World Medical Association International Code of Medical Ethics.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.

Australia is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is obliged to promote, protect, and fulfil the right to health; this includes maternal and child health.

The World Health Organisation states that access to appropriate maternity services and respect for  human rights is essential to a positive maternity experience.

Dignity is included in:

  • Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
  • The WHO’s framework for quality of care for pregnant women and newborns.

Dignity is evidenced by the values of respect, kindness, understanding, tolerance, and compassion.

Disrespect can lead to women feeling degraded and dehumanised.

Once a woman becomes pregnant, she is generally in a vulnerable position — how this is encountered and managed by maternity‐care professionals and services may either increase or decrease such vulnerability.  Think back to how you felt when you were starting a new job.

There is such a strong relationship between power and vulnerability. Further, we can be quite surprised how quickly a deterioration in our power raises our vulnerability.

We need to question and disrupt the very way we socially construct power in maternity care.

As one woman said to her doctor – Whose fear are we managing – yours or mine.

For childbearing women, there are two cardinal principles:

  • The principle of human dignity – The right of every human being to live a dignified life, a life worthy of honour and respect.
  • The principle of not using others as a means to an end – yet with the advent of technologies that see into the womb, the focus of care has shifted to the foetus and the pregnant woman has become a means to an end.


Image – healthwatchbucks.co.uk