Bioethics Blogs

Assisting Persons in Hospice to Cast Early Absentee Ballots

by Steven H. Miles, MD

A friend of mine is dying of metastatic cancer. She does not have long to live; she will possibly die before the end of this year. Throughout her life, she actively participated in civic life. She donated her time and money to charities and political campaigns. She did not shirk a call to jury duty as many do. Disability from her illness has constrained her public life. She watches television when she is not too tired. She follows a prominent local race and a race for national office. This week, I will take her to city hall to cast her ballot for the 2016 election.

One might ask, ‘Why?’ A harsher perspective might even maintain that she should not vote because she will likely die soon after the election. She might even die before the election in which case, one might argue that her ballot is analogous to the extremely uncommon, but not apochryphal, stories of fraudulent ballots cast in the name of decedents. Such a story is now unfolding in Colorado, a ‘battleground’ state in the upcoming presidential election.[i] Depending on whether my friend dies soon after or before the election, one might argue that she has either a marginal stake or an illegitimate role in this election. Assisted voting, however legal or desired by her, is hardly to be commended and perhaps might be morally condemned. I disagree.

Dying persons have a variety of future-looking interests that survive them. In writing a will, they gift possessions to particular family members and charities so that those persons and organizations might be cared for and sustained by the the decedent.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.