Royal College Punishes Doctors’ Conscience

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

Recent updates to official medical guidelines in the United Kingdom regarding specialization in sexual and reproductive health now bar doctors and nurses, with religious or moral objections to proscribing abortion inducing drugs such as the morning after pill, from receiving specialist professional qualifications.


The result of this ban is that Roman Catholics- as well as other medical professionals who cannot proscribe these drugs on grounds of conscience- are ineligible from receiving the qualifications necessary to work in this area of specialization according to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even if they complete the training program.


According to the guidelines, “Doctors who hold moral or religious reservations about any contraceptive methods will be unable to fulfill the syllabus for membership or specialty training…This will render them ineligible for the award of the examination or completion of training certificates.”


The prohibition is confirmed in the latest version of the guidelines.  The exclusion of those with conscience objections applies to specialist diplomas in sexual and reproductive health and also prohibits medical professional from gaining full membership to the Faculty.  Full membership is essential for any physician with this specialization but is also an important qualification for a general practitioner.


According to the Catholic News Service, the National Health Service will require this qualification before it pays for services. Doctors and nurses who have not been awarded specialist diplomas by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare will not be able to receive work in this area of focus.


The bar on qualifications applies to medical staff who object to “any form of contraception” including a new brand of morning after pill which can be taken up to five days after sex.


For the Roman Catholic Church, as well as other religious groups, the understanding of abortifacients includes emergency contraceptives such as Plan B or ella. Rather than simply acting as a barrier method and preventing fertilization, these hormonal methods can allow fertilization to take place and then prevent the newly conceived life from implanting and surviving.


According to the guidelines, those with conscience objections are “welcome” to study the diploma course but add that the completion of the syllabus includes willingness during training to proscribe all forms of hormonal contraception, including emergency contraception such as the morning after pill, as well as a willingness to counsel and refer for intra-uterine methods.


Dr. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said that the guidance could drive thousands of doctors out of gynecology.


According to Dr. Saunders these guidelines mean that “if you refuse to fit coils or prescribe the morning-after pill, then you can’t train to treat infertility, cervical cancer or HIV either.”  He added, “This effectively means that many thousands of doctors will not be able to pursue a career in gynecology and sexual health.”


These events are very worrisome for medical professionals on both sides of the Atlantic where conscience protection for doctors and nurses remains a cause for concern.  In the United States, as in the United Kingdom, there exists some protection in place for those medical professionals who cannot in good conscience participate in a medical abortion.  However, the law is less clear about protections for doctors and nurses whose religious beliefs prohibit them from proscribing or referring for abortifacients such as the morning after pill.


It can only be hoped that the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare will realize that abortion is not a priority in women’s healthcare.  Forcing out competent Catholic and pro-life doctors is not an appropriate action and will ultimately cause more harm to patients.  Policy makers should work to ensure that both the conscience of the doctor is protected and that patient is receiving the highest level of care possible.


Nora Sullivan is a Research Assistant at Charlotte Lozier Institute.


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