Opinion: A co-mission

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Commentary by Terry Anker

A basic principal of the law is the distinction between commission and omission.  One points to those times when a person is proved to have committed an act prohibited by a particular code or rule. Alternatively, one can be held liable if they should have taken a specific action but failed to do so.

The former is fairly straight forward. Namely, one steals from another, violating the local law, and is held to account for the transgression. The latter can be a bit more complicated. Imagine a therapist who believes that his patient may have violent tendencies. Does the doctor have an obligation to report the potential criminal to the police or should he protect her privacy? What if the patient disclosed that she had already killed her husband and was storing him in the freezer – would the doctor be an accessory to the crime if he simply omitted disclosure? What if the patient killed again? Should the therapist have tried to prevent it? Must he have?

Today, many of us will cast a ballot to select a new leader of the free world. And, we carry with us into the voting booth any number of deeply held beliefs. Some of them have been tested by close examination and others have not. Without doubt, a few will negatively judge the choices we make. Others will sympathize.

Do we have a co-mission – to vote and to make a perfect choice? If we cannot, can we opt out? Is how we vote as important as knowing that we did? This is a year where many believe committing the act of voting for president is a near crime while a choice to omit is a highroad alternative. Can we judge those who vote “wrong” more harshly than those who fail to mark a ballot at all?

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