Editor’s note: This is part of TNR’s Letters to Legislators Series.
Dear Senators Leahy and Sanders of Vermont:
I spent a decade of my working life as a hospital chaplain. My duties included on-call availability, chaplain’s care of patients and in- hospital presence. Along with that I was on the hospital’s ethics committee which met once a month to discuss issues that came up. We also met on an emergency basis when cases arose that required some expertise on ethical issues. It is not an exaggeration to say that we were consulted on life and death issues.
I attended a series of conferences at Johns Hopkins Medical School about ethics. I am not a doctor, however I did provide support for the medical staff, often delving into rather complex medical/ethical problems, and assisting physicians and offering insights into whatever dilemma they were facing.
Informed consent has a great impact on how medical care is practiced. An assessment has to be made by the medical staff about the patient’s ability to understand the information being provided to them. Do they understand the implications of the treatment being offered, and if they don’t, who can assist them in that effort? Sometimes I was brought in with the doctor to “translate” the medical information into common English, then assist the patient as a sounding board to sort through the implications of the various pathways available to them.
In a larger sense, informed consent is vital to the individual because it is connected to autonomy. The individual makes the decisions and choices about their health care because it affects them most. The professionals provide the information that applies, then it’s up to the person to decide. I saw many instances of patients provided with good medical information, assisted and supported by families and friends, make good, reasonable, well thought out decisions about their future. We live in an uncertain world, in tumultuous times, and to see people asserting their own dignity and personal sovereignty in the face of difficult choices strengthened my respect for humanity.
This relates to the idea of personal sovereignty. Here in the United States of America, we have guarantees of our own rights and individual freedoms in the Constitution. When the 13 colonies became the United States of America, sovereignty over the people was transferred away from the King of England to the individual citizen. The citizen then asserted their authority by voting in free and fair elections. Candidates campaigned for votes in these elections and the citizen used their own capacity and intellect to judge the merits of various pathways offered. In the mind of the voter, personal interest was balanced by long-term implications. Government was strengthened and protected because of this balance.
The campaign and election process was a form of informed consent, with voters provided with adequate information and then making decisions on issues that would impact their own lives. I speak here of the larger idea of politics in the past tense because things have changed greatly.
As an informed Vermont voter, I am concerned about the current House Bill HR 1, which according to congress.gov, “This bill addresses voter access, election integrity, election security, political spending, and ethics for the three branches of government.” Specifically, the bill expands voter registration and voting access and limits removing voters from voter rolls.”
This description is garbage. In fact, this legislation widely expands mail-in-voting, forbids voter identification rules, and limits states’ attempts to keep their voter registration rolls up to date. All of these greatly undermine election integrity. Concerns remain about the 2020 election, with hundreds of affidavits sworn (Fox News, Nov 18, “GOP obtains over 900 affidavits highlighting voting irregularities”) from people witnessing problems in the vote counting process that undermine election integrity. Sworn affidavits are evidence in a court of law.
Presently the U.S. Senate is considering the HR 1 bill. Please vote against this legislation for the good of your constituents. This bill will encourage voter fraud, leave voter registration rolls unreliable, and weaken our democracy. It undermines the personal sovereignty of the individual Vermont voter. I offer these thoughts in keeping with the ethical premise of informed consent. In other words, perhaps you have not seriously looked at and considered the huge problems with this bill. Here’s hoping you will look and vote against it!