Christian GPs and the morning after pill: Much needed clarification

Dr Sima Barmania
pill 300x225 Christian GPs and the morning after pill: Much needed clarification

(Getty Images)

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.

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  • youarepoor

    Christian GP’s and the Morning After Pill – Clarification…

    DO YOUR F***ING JOB!!!

    Stop imposing your imaginary friends’ demands on people who don’t give a ****.

  • Agatha Gomes

    A personal belief should not affect how you work. You’re getting paid to do a job. So do it.

  • steve thomas

    Not sure why you can’t just go to a pharmacy and get the medication over the counter-as you can in the the US. Recent legislation has allowed pharmacists to administer “Plan B” tablets to teenagers under 16 without a prescription in the US. It is just levonorgesterol, a drug used in many types of monthly contraceptive pills-do these “docs of conscience” not prescribe monthly contraceptives?

  • yellowbenzene

    As a medical student I witnessed a Catholic GP castigate a young woman who had come to seek advice regarding a termination. He was so completely judgemental and unsupportive that I complained about him and the patient was recalled to see another partner.

    If you have religious beliefs, leave them at the door when you come into work. To alter your practise due to your own religion is wholly unprofessional.

  • CathyC

    Christian GP’s should declare their faith openly so that patients who don’t want their unsolicited advice are equipped to avoid them. There are time limits on using the morning after pill and the choice to use it is the patient’s choice. Presumably the patient will not have time for a lot of backchat and magical thinking from her GP and she will ask for the morning after pill because she already has an opinion, that is her own! I’m thoroughly sick of GPs who are arrogant enough to assume they are there to educate patients. The GP’s have a role to perform based on their medical qualification and nothing else! Their ‘opinions’ have no greater value than anyone else’s. It takes a very sick variety of religious nutter to see the tragedies of other people’s lives as an opportunity to push ‘God’.

  • JamesHaddock

    As a doctor it is my belief that the Geneva convention, which obliges me to give care to anyone, irrespective of gender, sexuality and religion, trumps any abstract personal belief I might have. As a citizen it is my belief that the Law trumps such beliefs as well.

    It is received medical practice to offer the morning after pill, and a woman’s right to it is enshrined in law. If I wanted to be a Christian shaman I would have joined the clergy. If you choose to be a doctor, and you choose to be a law abiding citizen, then your religion or beliefs should only influence you within the confines of those responsibilities.

    Allowing your own religion to interfere with or influence your patient’s care is as heinous as allowing their religion to interfere with or influence their care.

  • Tribeless

    The entire NHS should be secularised. Religions have no place in surgeries or hospitals. Treatment should be based on the medical needs and/or wishes of patients and not skirted around by people who hold arcane metaphysical beliefs.

  • DrMartinAndrews

    >>What followed was a bitter, war of words

    >>There are indeed doctors in the NHS that do not prescribe the morning after pill; this is not novel, by any means.

    Dr Sima Barmania is obviously unable to use commas and colons correctly. However, your proof-reader should be able to do so.

  • RobGood

    I wish you would stop labelling doctors who object to treating their patients as “Christian”. At least 50% of the British population are nominally Christian. Such doctors constitute an absolutist fringe who believe that the moment of conception effectively constitutes the moment of birth and that a few cells invisible to the human eye have an inviolable right to life.

    Save us from such crack-pots. They should never have become doctors. Please distinguish between crack-pots, however, and regular Christians.

    You will be claiming next that Christians believe the earth and humanity were created a few thousand years ago. They were not (in case you had other ideas). Such views belong to a similar crack-pot fringe.

  • David Johnstone

    Because pharmacists, with such objections, can also refuse to supply. So a patient could be told by their doctor, no and then their pharmacist, no. Does this seem fair to the patient? I don’t think so. I am a pharmacist and often argue against allowing ‘conscientious objection’ – I find this term offensive also, because it’s my conscience that tells me I should supply. It’s an ongoing debate unfortunately. In my opinion, personal beliefs do not belong in healthcare. The individuals wishing to become healthcare professionals should be aware, they will have to perform certain tasks whereby their chosen belief will be contradicted. If a person cannot separate their professional responsibility from their chosen personal belief, that person should not work in healthcare. Conversely, in order to prevent a patient being passed from one professional to another and so on, he or she should make it their business to know exactly where to refer a patient, to receive the help that they object to giving.

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