“Informed” Consent?

By Haley Gosselin

Dr. Heather Lakey speaks at WSU

On March 14, I strolled into the Blue Lounge in the Student Center, expecting to see—what?  Protestors?  Pro-choice activists? I’m not sure, exactly. Instead, all I saw was an audience of two small rows. Considering the controversial topic about to be discussed, I didn’t know exactly what I was in for, but I was pleasantly surprised by an insightful lecture and the civilized and open-minded discussion that followed

I edged my way to the center of the second row as Professor Elena Cuffari of the Philosophy department stood up to introduce our speaker, Dr. Heather Lakey of the University of Maine and College of the Atlantic.  

The topic of her lecture – Beyond Right or Wrong: Abortion, Informed Consent, and Medical Decision Making – has become even more relevant two weeks after Dr. Lakey visited campus, as Donald Trump, in an MSNBC interview with Chris Matthews, recently said that abortion should be illegal and women who receive them should be punished.  

Trump went on to retract and revise this statement several times, leaving us with no way of knowing his actual stance on the issue—but that’s another story.  

The real issue here is that Trump not only demonstrates a complete lack of respect and understanding for women, he discredits our ability to make educated decisions. He doesn’t just say we shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens with our own bodies—he says we should be punished for choosing what happens with our own bodies.  

Not only does he want to take away our right to choose, he wants to further control and demean us by creating a penalty for those who dare to do so. He is an extreme example of a mindset shared by a number of politicians who continually strive to make obtaining an abortion more difficult.

This lecture aimed to spread awareness about the bias of informed consent materials designed by politicians like Trump, and, articulate young woman she is, Dr. Lakey spellbound me with her ideas from the moment she began.  

The lecture wasn’t concerned with the moral aspects of abortion, but rather with the way that women are presented with medical information leading up to the abortion procedure. I was introduced to a term called “medical paternalism” which is defined as “the interacting with a patient as a father [or mother] would with a child—e.g., surrogate decision-making, which may limit autonomy or be contrary to the patient’s wishes.”

Lakey proposed the question of whether all medical information and informed consent materials given to women before an abortion are medical fact and highlighted that individuals—both men and female—should be able to make their own medical decisions. It seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?  It’s your body so you should be the one making choices about it, right?  If only it were that simple.  

According to Dr. Lakey, abortion is unlike most medical procedures in that it “is is too deeply intertwined with philosophical and moral issues to be just a medical issue”. Instead of  providing women with objective, simple facts about the abortion procedure before going through with it, women are subjected to a variety of informed consent materials with the sole intention of swaying their decision.  

For example, Lakey informed us that in many states a woman receiving this procedure must receive an ultrasound prior to the procedure itself. The woman is forced to hear the fetus’s heartbeat and view it on a screen.  

An ultrasound is not objective.  

Ultrasound pictures are all over social media, especially on Facebook where newly expecting mothers share these photos daily. How can this medical information be considered objective when it is so vividly and personally connected with life outside the clinic?  

Informed consent was put into place legally to protect patient autonomy because we have the right to make decisions about our bodies and our health—yet forcing a woman to view her ultrasounds before an abortion is undoubtedly an attempt to influence her ultimate decision. Its purpose is to try and stir up emotions, whether it be crushing guilt or simply second thoughts.  

Lakey also displayed samples of informational booklets that are given to women prior to receiving an abortion in West Virginia and Texas. These pamphlets are full of warnings about psychological trauma and “post-abortion syndrome”—a syndrome not recognized by the American Psychological Association. They report only the negative emotional responses some women have after an abortion and pretend that the positive ones do not exist.

Statistically, 1 in 3 women in the United States has an abortion by the age of 45.  Let’s think about that: is 1 out of every 3 women you know horribly depressed or sad, as these booklets would lead us to believe?   

The pamphlets, designed by politicians, are simply another tool designed to manipulate women into developing hesitations regarding their decision. In some instances, doctors are legally required to ask abortion patients if they are having second thoughts. The fact that these procedures are legally in place demonstrates a patriarchal system that doubts a woman’s ability to make an educated medical decision.  

As Lakey said, “these informed consent materials show women to be incompetent or unreasonable decision makers, and do not encourage women’s autonomy.”

If you ask me, we, as a country, can do better than to doubt the ability of a woman to make her own unbiased, informed decision about her own body, health, and life.

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