Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Can We Predict When a Person Is No Longer Useful to Society?

You could call it ironic.

Decades ago, a doctor by the name of Henry Heimlich read an article about people dying from choking on food in restaurants. Dr. Heimlich eventually developed a procedure to help dislodge food from a choking person's windpipe by applying abdominal thrusts, first described in 1974.

Variations of the procedure have been incorporated into first aid training for years, although its effectiveness is now in debate. But that didn't stop the doctor from springing into action in May of this year, when a woman seated next to him began choking on a piece of meat during a meal.

The Associated Press reported that Heimlich was having dinner when he noticed that the woman seated next to him began to get pink in the face and appeared to be choking. He got up behind her and began the Heimlich maneuver. A piece of hamburger with a bone in it popped out.

The woman, Patty Ris, was reported to be feeling fine afterward and credited Dr. Heimlich with saving her life. She was convinced that God had seated them side-by-side that day.

The irony of saving a person with his own procedure in a community setting should be especially sweet for this doctor, because Dr. Heimlich is now ninety-six years old, and the incident occurred at a senior living center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he is a resident.

Who would have guessed that an elderly man in a senior center would be a lifesaver? How many times had workers and visitors walked by him and seen only an old man?

It's a good example of why society should not be allowed to be the judge of the boundaries on a person's usefulness. Indeed, usefulness to society should not be the criterion for care in the first place.

A life should be valued for its existence alone.

But that is often not the case in our culture. So bravo to Dr. Heimlich for reminding us that we have something to offer to others, regardless of our age and our physical or mental abilities. Thanks for reminding caregivers and health care providers that we serve humanity when we care for others. A lifetime of rich experiences and relationships and expertise may reside in the most humble of humans.

Thanks, Dr. Heimlich, for encouraging others to see every person as vital, regardless of age or ability.

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