I don’t often write about my job on Fluid Morality – I tend to keep my rantings and ravings about it on my other blog which is mainly focused on personal stuff. But, funnily enough, when it comes to writing about consent, hundreds of examples from my time in the Pharma pop up. This is because, as far as I’m concerned, my industry sets the standard for obtaining proper informed consent.
Here’s how it works: a potential study patient goes to a physician who is participating in a particular clinical trial. The potential study patient goes through a legal procedure to ensure that they know all costs and risks associated with the proposed treatment before starting said treatment. The consent process includes providing information to the potential patient such as the nature of the study treatment, possible alternative treatments, and potential risks/benefits of the treatment. The consent process is only considered to be valid if consent was obtained voluntarily (no coercion!) and if documented properly.
In addition, once a potential patient gives consent, they are monitored and followed to ensure that anything out of the ordinary is reported. This goes along with language in the consent document that says something like, “There may be risks or benefits from X that we do not know about.” and it makes sense because, really, how can anyone know all potential outcomes from any act? Even walking down the block to the store can have unexpected consequences.
(Some of you may be shaking your head in disbelief at the process above but let me assure you – if consent for a clinical trial does not go as listed above, harsh consequences rain down upon the physician and their staff. I know this because monitoring the consent process was one of the things I used to directly oversee and because I now train people on how to monitor it and apply those consequences I mentioned.)
Since my work-life (hah!) is so engulfed by the consent process it makes sense that I am obsessive about it in my personal life, and that it spills over into all facets. Other than the fact that I was unable to consent to being alive in the first place and to whatever hand I’m dealt with regard to how my body functions, all other aspects of what I do have some element of consent involved. My relationships with other people involve consent; my religious path involves consent; my care for my health involves consent; my sex life involves consent. Sometimes I am giving consent, and sometimes I am obtaining consent, but in all of these situations there is a consent process of sorts that is (or should be) followed. And, when someone tries to skip that process, problems emerge.
Funnily enough, I’ve seen a variety of notable examples of consent failure among pagans in the past few year:
CONSENT FAIL – A friend practices Reiki. Due to the way she was taught and/or beliefs about how Reiki works, she doesn’t ask before sending it to people. One of the people to whom she sends it ends up with an excruciating headache at the back of the skull and a feeling of violation.
CONSENT FAIL – A public convention I attended including an opening ritual of the Wiccish variety without (1) notification of the nature of the ritual before it started and/or (2) time to opt-out for those that aren’t able to participate in such things. Attendees feel short-changed, unheard, and unsafe.
CONSENT FAIL – Someone does healing work for a patient with cancer without first asking if the healing is wanted and/or coordinating with others to ensure that the work was properly directed. The tumor begins to grow (whether as a direct or indirect result, I’m not sure.)
Now, the above situations may not seem like a big deal to some, but they’re all situations in which consent should have been obtained. Being railroaded into something I didn’t agree to causes me to feel unsafe and violated. It makes me distrust those around me, even if they have the best intentions. It makes me look at everyone differently. After all, if someone I thought cared about me violates my consent, what will someone I don’t know do to me?
I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve got a situation where you were able to give proper consent and one where you weren’t. You probably also can think of a time where you obtained proper consent from someone…and a time when you didn’t. Take those out from the back of your mind and take a look at them. What did you do well? What could you have done differently?
Consent is non-negotiable…unless you plan to be a hermit who never interacts with anyone. And, if that’s you, what are you doing here?