What We Say Matters
Words matter. They shape our lives. Words create narratives, tell truths, hide false facts. Words spin tales, open up different worlds while shattering others. Words allow a society to come together in understanding or they can tear us apart. Our words impact not only ourselves but others. What we say and when we say it is why cultural competence and bioethics are important.
Cultural competence is the idea that as a bioethicist, I understand and respect another person’s traditions and culture. It is imperative to fully understand the cultural norms so I do not offend or hurt another person. There are times when the traditions followed by a patient do not conform to my beliefs, but my beliefs must be put aside so I may better serve the patient. A patient once asked me why I advocated for their beliefs when I clearly did not practice their religion. My reply was because their beliefs should be respected because my voice is their voice in this case.
We are voices for others. We should not seek to advance our own agenda to the detriment of our patient. I sat in a room with my colleagues as we discussed a case and before I spoke I listened to their arguments of why my patient should not be allowed to exercise her autonomy. They didn’t understand her religious beliefs and when presented with her beliefs they quickly dismissed them.
As I sat there with my peers, I realized they silenced her because they did not understand her. As we went around the table explaining why her autonomy should be respected, I waited until it was my turn to speak. I began by stating my personal beliefs did not coincide with her religious beliefs, but my beliefs were not important when it comes to the care of my patient. It is my job as her voice to speak for her and to state why, in this case, it would benefit her treatment if she were allowed to go through with her preferred treatment plan. Her voice deserved to be heard.
Voices deserve to be heard even if it is one voice speaking for another. Voices tell stories, relate pain, expose the suffering felt by them and countless others who remain silent. One voice carries the weight of a thousand other voices. As a bioethicist, it is my job to listen to and respect a patient's treatment preferences. It is also my hope that by respecting a patient's culture the medical team and I can go forward and apply our knowledge in other similar cases. By speaking for my patient I was able to create a foundation for another patient who followed the same religion and would benefit from medical staff who better understood her beliefs.