Commentary: The most critical voice in an exam room is yours

A view of abortion from eight University of Utah medical school students.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Planned Parenthood Metro Health Center's patient waiting room Tuesday, May 10, 2022.

Imagine sitting in the exam room at your doctor’s office with a new diagnosis of high blood pressure. You learn that you are amongst the 50% of Americans diagnosed with this condition, and you must manage it appropriately to prevent harm to your health.

The doctor presents you with two options for treatment, an expensive medicine with multiple side effects or a lower cost medicine with no side effects. As the patient, you expect your doctor to thoroughly explain these options before deciding what treatment is best for you. However, after the provider presents you with the pertinent information, they explain that you are not eligible for the lower-cost, no-side-effect medicine due to government restrictions. Your options and decision-making capacity just evaporated.

Like high blood pressure, abortion is common. By 45, three out of 10 pregnant people will have had an abortion. Yet, following the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and implementation of Utah’s abortion trigger law, abortion options for Utahns have evaporated.

It is against the best practices of modern medicine to restrict a patient’s choices based on others’ values. In medical school, we learn about shared decision-making, a framework that tells us to put the patient in control of their health care decisions. A person does not surrender their autonomy when they become a patient.

When you go to the doctor’s office, you deserve choices and the opportunity to make decisions about your health. The ability to weigh the risks and benefits of one’s medical care — and ultimately choose the best decision for oneself — is a fundamental human right. The personal opinions of lawmakers have no place when it comes to your healthcare decisions.

People do not receive medical interventions for mere want; they receive them because of a sincere need. Every medical intervention, including the ibuprofen you take for a headache, carries a risk, however small or large. In every health care decision, physicians work with their patients to weigh the harm done by an intervention against the benefit gained, understanding that patients are the final arbiters of what is in their best interest. Physicians then deliver medical care uniquely tailored to patients’ needs and values.

The calculus is intensely personal, and one person’s choice to do an additional round of chemotherapy does not invalidate another’s choice to go on hospice. It is an egregious intrusion on your privacy for the government, or anyone other than yourself, to dictate the care that you or anyone else can ultimately receive.

Abortion bans strip pregnant patients of their autonomy and force onto them medical decisions imposed by others. Supporting a person’s right to choose abortion as an intervention that best meets their needs does not mean that, in the same situation, you would choose an abortion. It does not mean you have to want that person to choose abortion. It simply means you understand that whether or not to have an abortion, like every other medical decision you make in your lifetime, is a complex and incredibly personal choice that is best made in the privacy of a doctor’s office.

To nullify valuable health care and strip Utahns of their bodily autonomy is a reprehensible abuse of government power.

When it comes to your health care, the final say should be yours.

Brighton Alvey, Kayla Blickensderfer, Heather Cummins, Jane Duncan, Madelyn Lee, Alena Lovi-Borgmann, Leah Millsap and Courtney Kenyon are second- and third-year medical students at the University of Utah School of Medicine. The views expressed are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of University of Utah School of Medicine.