OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) – Doctors who refuse to prescribe birth control pills have become the focus of a debate over physicians’ rights to freedom of conscience and religion when practicing medicine.
An Alberta doctor faces a human rights complaint for posting a notice at the clinic where she works that she will not prescribe the pill. Earlier this year, three Ottawa doctors came under fire for similar reasons. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is doing a public consultation on its guidelines, which could be revamped to restrict doctors’ rights to abstain from legal medical practices on religious or conscientious grounds.
For Dr. Howie Bright, past president of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, the attack on birth control is a “fairly discrete target because it sounds weird that a modern doctor” would not prescribe contraception and is likely to “generate reaction.”
The article mentions a public consultation involving the Canadian College of Physicians and Surgeons. Currently there is an online poll and a survey. The poll can be found here and if you can vote I would urge you to do so. The “Yes” side (in favor of conscience rights) is currently holding a slim majority. That’s a significant improvement from a few weeks ago when the “No” side had 80% of the votes. I’m confident that the OCPS won’t be making any changes given the mixture of opinions in the public and in the ethical commity. We just have to make sure there isn’t a sudden surge of no votes.
On the topic of this discussion, I find the conversation disheartening. I can’t think of any compelling reason for the “No” side to operate. There is no one in Canada who has any problems acquiring birth control (including the two cases that made headlines; one wasn’t a patient and the other found birth control ten minutes later). There simply aren’t enough doctors unwilling to prescribe birth control to make this a serious issue.
ABC requires prescription because some women, even those who have no conscientious objection against its use, cannot use ABC because of the side effects. ABC affects a woman’s physiology, Is the law going to tell physicians to prescribe ABC to women who demand it despite physical contraindications?
As mentioned, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is reviewing its policy on Physicians and the Human Rights Code. At mass this past Sunday, we were asked to take part in the survey. I don’t know if they will put much stock in the poll, but please fill out the survey if you can. Also, please remember that the consultation ends August 5th!
I’d be satisfied with the status quo, but ideally they would amend the policy so that doctors who limit their services on moral/religious grounds don’t have to refer patients. As it stands, doctors are forced to refer patients to another doctor who will provide the objectionable service, which still makes the original doctor culpable in helping someone procure that service.
There has to be an easy and foolproof way for patients to know whether a doc will prescribe contraceptives or not.
In the future I think, as fewer and fewer people remain conscientious Catholics on this issue this will probably be done away with and the answer will be, if you want to be a martyr, don’t be a doctor or at least someone who has to deal with contraception.
As for referrals I think a doctor is obliged to refer in a blanket way. That means a doctor, if requested by a patient, has to provide a summary of the relevant test results and work up or diagnoses a patient has. What the patient does with this, and where he or she goes is not the concern of the doctor. As long as he does not pick up a phone and call his colleague who does this he is not culpable.
Also one final point, surely birth control is only sinful in context of sexual relationships. A woman who is given a prescription for birth control and is told that if she engages in sex while on it, she may be committing a sin in her faith has to now make the informed choice for herself. A doctor could say, “I will only prescribe birth control pills for you, if you agree not to have any sex while you’re on them”.