Christian GPs and the morning after pill: Much needed clarification
Earlier this month, Sanchez Manning reported in the Independent on Sunday of the case of a “Christian-run” NHS surgery which refused to prescribe the morning-after pill on the grounds of conscience.
The case in point referred to one medical practice in South London, which advised patients that, “if a consenting doctor is not available to prescribe contraception they should contact a local clinic or chemist”.
What followed was a bitter, war of words between secularists and those of faith, which was somewhat out of context and not particularly informative.
There are indeed doctors in the NHS that do not prescribe the morning after pill; this is not novel, by any means. The UK has such a comprehensive family planning and reproductive health service that it allows for this and has provisions that one doctor may opt out of providing the morning after pill and be replaced by another who is willing to do so, with no inconvenience or disruption to services.
Following Manning’s article I spoke with one Christian GP who does not prescribe the morning after pill on grounds of religious conscience, who was rather irate that this story had demonized Christian doctors and felt it was further proof of what he describes as the “secular monster”.
In fact, he recounted an incident at work a few weeks ago where a lady came in asking for the morning after pill, he spent much time tentatively counselling her and worked a way that she could access the morning after pill which was not directly through him and which did not conflict with his own moral conscience. This is common practice and is not considered by most doctors as neglect or incongruent with a patient’s right to family planning.
I asked other seasoned GPs who prescribe the morning after pill, what their thoughts were and on the whole it was rather supportive, with one doctor saying: “I do prescribe emergency contraception; I cannot see that those doctors have done anything wrong. They have even sign posted those ladies to alternative services.”
Speaking to another GP, who also prescribes the morning after pill, he said: “I admire people with beliefs, doctors should be able to opt out but there should be a colleague to cover”.
Doctors are allowed to have personal beliefs, just as long as these beliefs do not interfere with the rights of the patient and service provision.
The General Medical Council clearly states in Good Medical Practice Guidance what is expected of doctors if they chose to opt out, stating: “You must explain to patients if you have a conscientious objection to a particular procedure. You must tell them about their right to see another doctor and make sure they have enough information to exercise that right. In providing this information you must not imply or express disapproval of the patient’s lifestyle, choices or beliefs. If it is not practical for a patient to arrange to see another doctor, you must make sure that arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over your role.”
The GMC in fact further clarified the concept of “conscientious objection” in March 2013 in a document on personal beliefs and medical practice. Transparency on such matters is important for both doctors and the public, but for definitive clarification I contacted the authority on such matters, Niall Dickson, The Chief Executive of the GMC, who said: “Our guidance is clear. Doctors may practise in line with their beliefs and values, as long as they do not prevent patients from accessing appropriate treatments or services.”
“A doctor who has a conscientious objection to a particular treatment, such as supplying the morning after pill, must explain to the patient that she has a right to see another doctor and must make sure she has enough information to do so.”
I think such a definite explanation is crucially important to protect the rights of both the doctors and the public and is very much welcomed.Tagged in: Christianity, doctors, General Medical Council, GMC, GPs, Morning-after pill, nhs, Religion
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