LONDON — New requirements that medical professionals seeking a specialist diploma in the United Kingdom must be willing to prescribe contraception and abortion-causing drugs have sparked objections from those excluded due to their moral beliefs.
“These rules exclude professionals who are unwilling to prescribe contraceptives and abortifacients on moral and conscientious grounds from specializing in an important area of clinical practice,” said Victoria Weissman, a Catholic final-year medical student in the U.K.
“These are rules of exclusion based on discrimination and restrict the rights both of health-care professionals and of society in general,” she said, adding that the rules discriminate against her “on the grounds of my moral and conscientious objection.”
Weissman said that the rules also discriminate against the “many women” she has encountered who might benefit from and appreciate discussing these issues with “a practitioner who shared their understanding of the meaning and responsibility of their sexuality and fertility and who valued the dignity of every human life.”
In February, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists re-published the guidelines for its specialist diplomas in sexual and reproductive health and for the standards of full membership in the faculty, the U.K. Telegraph reported.
The faculty said the completion of the program’s full syllabus is necessary for the qualification, and this includes “a willingness to prescribe all forms of hormonal contraception, including emergency contraception, regardless of personal beliefs.”
Weissman said that the diploma is important for general practitioners or nurses involved in “any aspect of reproductive health,” and it is “essential” for specialization.
She said that more than 70% of British medical graduates become general practitioners, and reproductive health constitutes “a large part” of their caseloads.
The updated diploma guidelines state that clinicians with moral or religious reservations about “any contraceptive methods” will be unable to fulfill the syllabus requirement and will be ineligible for the diploma. It said that nurses and midwives have the right to conscientious objection only in cases of participation in abortion and in artificial-conception procedures.
The faculty said that the policy is an updated version that now refers to nurses but is “otherwise unchanged” from existing policy.
Weissman repeated her objections to the policy.
“Sexual and reproductive health care is about much more than preventing and taking away new life,” she said.
Weissman explained that abortifacient drugs prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, a new human embryo, “essentially resulting in miscarriage, termination of pregnancy, abortion.”
“They act once conception has happened, once life exists. … They prevent this life from developing, from thriving, from surviving.”
These drugs “cause us to break both the Fifth Commandment and the Hippocratic Oath,” she objected.
She added that Catholics object to contraception on the grounds that it disrupts conjugal love and places obstacles between the couples and God’s will for them.
Weisman said that disregarding her beliefs would mean she is “endangering the immoral souls of those I treat as well as myself” and also “helping to further an attitude in society that does not respect the dignity of each human life, regardless of its stage in life.”
She said the Catholic faith helps contribute to U.K. medicine. It helps medical practitioners to “see in each individual the image and likeness of God” and to “care for people regardless of their situation, their age, color or creed.” These practitioners’ conscientious objections also help uphold medical moral standards.
Weissman suggested that accommodations should be arranged for objecting medical professionals to allow them to complete the diploma.
The rules have also drawn concern from Dr. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
“It bars pro-life doctors from specializing in sexual and reproductive health and also makes it much more difficult for non-specialists to get jobs in family planning or reproductive health,” he said, according to the Telegraph.
In an April 29 blog post, Saunders suggested that the new policy may constitute illegal discrimination against those who hold certain religious and moral beliefs.
“I expect that some serious questions will be asked in parliament and elsewhere about this matter in the coming days,” he said, “and I would not be surprised if some government ministers got very angry as a result, or if a doctor, or a group of doctors and nurses, contemplated bringing a legal case against the college.”