I’d really like to write about informed consent and whether it is a convenient fallacy to obfuscate the harsh reality that medicine isn’t as black and white as we have been led to believe.
It’s a complex topic so consider this my notebook of scraps and gently judge it’s content as it’s not a full cohesive argument so much as a collection of thoughts I’m working through here. If you feel you are reacting to it strongly please work through why on your own time.
I am on this topic as I am reaching a point of frustration with the discourse around transgender issues and who is responsible for informed consent. We’ve got a spiraling culture war where everyone is ignoring basic facts like children are below the age of consent and thus their parents are responsible.
Our entire legal system is based on the premise that before 18 you have not reached the age of reason and are not fully responsible for your actions. Yes it’s flawed and doesn’t always work that way and we try minors all the time but the fact remains parents are the guardians of their children.
I am oddly both well read and well cited on issues related to informed consent and substituted judgement as I was a medical ethics research assistant at the University of Chicago. I got paid $10 an hour for my troubles so you know my credentials check out (in sarcasm font). Seriously go look I’m an author on a few papers.
Making a choice to engage in almost any medical procedure is risky in ways no one, not even doctors, can fully articulate. Bodies are complicated and abiding by a simple principle like “first do no harm” turns out to be hard calculus.
Sure you can get awfully close to the right answer but you will be pretty far down the calculating differential equations path once it dawns on you that we can get infinitely close to certainty but certainly itself cannot be reached. Turns out math is useful in daily life.
Patients have a right to chose their own risk parameters. Doctors do their best to inform. But the grey area is so wide it’s practically an abyss. Add in making decisions for a minor and it’s all best guesses and other people’s facts. Believe the science means you’ve got to do your own math and it appears most people are innumerate.
I am willing to make big criticism of the transgender panic crowd because they’d prefer to pick and chose convenient narratives like “think of the children” as a defense. I’ve heard that tune before in every other moral panic. And yet it’s still not the government’s job or the doctors job to make the call. It is the parent’s call because children require the substituted judgement of their parents for informed consent.
If this is annoying or unsatisfying to you well that’s a bummer for you. I’d encourage you to read up on how we’ve scapegoated populations in the past to make sure the in-group’s priorities and social mores are sustained. Every moral panic has one. I’d recommend René Girard’s work here.
When we fixate on a vulnerable population the story is always the same. And I believe anyone who is reading this blog is smart enough to grasp that in good faith. And we’ve got a long history of scapegoating people who don’t conform to our majority population’s comforts.
The transgender issue is no different and trying to wedge it into a “but the children” argument runs up against two issues. Most of our American historical moral panics have scapegoated in this exact way. And medicine is simply not so concrete that any treatment for any condition is risk free.