Democracy and the health of a nation 

I am a Philadelphian. I was born in a hospital within a few blocks of Independence Hall, where the Constitution was written, and of Thomas Jefferson’s lodging, where the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Whether it was elementary school trips to Betsy Ross House, Ben Franklin’s Printing House or, yes, to see the crack in the Liberty Bell, then housed in the Hall itself, the tenets of our country’s revolutionary beliefs in the peaceful transfer of power via democratic elections were instilled in me from my youth. Every November, our mother took my sister and me into the voting booth. She swung the curtain shut, and we huddled together, watching her pull the grand lever. It was important to her to show us that voting matters and that women of my grandmother’s generation had fought hard to gain the right to vote. 

I cherish diversity – I view this as another gift from growing up in Philadelphia and the public schools I attended. Our nation is a multicultural nation; we must celebrate the richness of different backgrounds and perspectives. We cannot accept brute force attempts to demolish democracy, promote monoculture, and ignore the people’s voice.  

Any hope that 2021 would somehow turn the tide on the suffering of so many in 2020 seems to have been dashed. The pandemic rages on; as an anesthesiologist, I know that our patients, their families, and all who care for them, including health care and frontline workers, need full attention.  

Health humanities and the program I founded, Stanford Medicine and the Muse, explore the many contexts of health and health care. How our social and political fabric is rent and threatened affects both public and personal health. This is our lane. 

I am a Philadelphian. I am an American. I believe in this country. I am grateful to everyone who works towards making this country a loving, safe, vibrant, welcoming, respectful, and healthy community. We can do this. We can build a nation that cares.  

Audrey Shafer is an anesthesiologist.

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