Prescribing morality

Another day, another doctor deciding that it’s just fine to impose his morality on his patients. This time, it’s a doctor in Marlborough who thinks that it’s okay for him to refuse to renew his patients’ prescriptions for contraceptives.

Except that this chap goes a step or two further than most dispensers of morality.

Women have reproductive duty, says ‘rhythm’ doctor

Lee, a doctor at Wairau Community Clinic in Blenheim, stood by his views and actions. “I don’t want to interfere with the process of producing life,” the Catholic father-of-two told the Herald on Sunday.

Lee also does not prescribe condoms, and encourages patients as young as 16 to use the rhythm method.

Teen pregnancy might be a girl’s “destiny”, he said, and it was certainly not as bad as same- sex marriage.

Let me tell you the other name for the rhythm method. It’s commonly known as “Vatican roulette”. The failure rate of this contraceptive method is high: about 24% of women using Vatican roulette become pregnant each year (one, two).

So this doctor prefers to prescribe a method that is much much less efficacious than other methods of contraception. About the only “method” that is worse is not using contraception at all.

You might just possibly be able to argue that Dr Lee shouldn’t be obliged to go against his own morality in the conduct of his employment. But whether or not that’s a viable argument, it’s not tenable in this case. Dr Lee is on the public coin. A large part of his income is funded by government, so that people in New Zealand have access to healthcare. And government in this country is secular.

More than that, Dr Lee’s direct employer, the Marlborough Primary Health Organisation, says that patients’ rights are governed by the Health and Disability Commissioner’s Code of Rights, which includes rights such as this:

Every consumer has the right to be provided with services that take into account the needs, values, and beliefs of different cultural, religious, social, and ethnic groups, including the needs, values, and beliefs of Maori.

and this:

Every consumer has the right to have services provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of the individual.

and this:

Every consumer has the right to the information that a reasonable consumer, in that consumer’s circumstances, would expect to receive, including –
a) An explanation of his or her condition; and
b) An explanation of the options available, including an assessment of the expected risks, side effects, benefits, and costs of each option…

I’m finding it hard to understand how Dr Lee’s employer thinks that he is doing enough to comply with this code of rights.

But that’s not all.

The only circumstances in which [Dr Lee] would prescribe the contraceptive pill would be if a woman wanted space between pregnancies, or had at least four children. (ref)

So there you are, ladies. You’re all obliged to have at least four children each.

What I find horrid about this is the extent to which this man feels that he is entitled to control women’s lives and bodies, and to impose his own morality on them. He expects to be in a position of moral authority over his patients.

I find this offensive. As I have written before (one, two), perhaps it used to be reasonable to approach doctors for moral advice, when they were often the only highly educated person in a community. But that’s hardly so any more. And in any case, using contraception is not considered a morally difficult issue by the great majority of New Zealanders. It’s only some fringe religious groups who think that using contraception is morally impermissible. I say “fringe” deliberately: only a small minority of New Zealanders are practising Christians, and of those who are, an even smaller number subscribe to the view that contraception is wrong.

Dr Lee is right out of line. And so is the system which allows him to overrule his patients’ rights, and attempt to control his patients’ lives and bodies, because of his own private morality.


8 comments on “Prescribing morality

  1. Who's that girl? says:

    I read this item with utter disbelief. I had no idea that doctors did this sort of moralising.

  2. Anna McM says:

    I guess there is a (carefully circumscribed) place for doctors’ personal morality in their practice, if handled sensitively – but like you, I don’t see the moral dilemma here. Not treating women like breeding animals is a pretty black and white issue for me. – Anna McM

  3. Dale says:

    This was a pretty normal situation in New Zealand when the contraceptive pill first appeared in the 1960s. It’s curious to hear that pockets of throwback are still out there.

    I had a married friend in central Otago in 1966 who had to drive many miles to another city to get the pill prescribed, due to an unfortunate preponderance of Catholic GPs in the area in which she lived and worked. I believe the West Coast of the South Island was similarly challenged for a long time.

    It should be said, though, that the South Island, and the Catholic faith, have no particular ownership of the issue!

  4. MJ says:

    Seriously — if douching and withdrawal are more effective than the contraceptive method you are prescribing, the contraceptive method you are prescribing is ridiculous.

  5. There are probably a surprising number of issues that secular socialism and libertarianism have fundamental agreement on, vis a vis rights, before moving to the intractable schism of individual rights versus the common good of a collective. I agree if there is an enforced tax take then while Dr Lee wants to exercise his own archaic views on this matter, he need do so on his own money. That is the price he must pay of being on the state payroll. Viewed more widely, such a pity we can’t leave all the various branches of mysticism behind that still linger on. (There’s a literary quote in there somewhere about dead civilisations, but I can’t recall it – would be Eliot or Pound I suspect).

    Nice piece Deborah.

    (Interesting to hear what the rhythm method was: we were thinking it must be playing a sleep inducing Barry Manilow over a bottle of wine.)

  6. Gae says:

    Right — how long has this joker been married, and with ONLY two children, has either he or his missus been shirking their ‘reproductive duties”? Hmmmm, or is it a case that what is sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander ?

  7. This does not surprise me in the slightest. I do feel though that the root cause of this so called “morality” of the doctor seems is only lightly touched on.

    Clearly this objection to condoms and birth control pills are an objection based firmly in Religion(The Catholic strain in this case). I say now that I do not mean to say that all Religious people make this objection but to me this simply highlights that Religion is a human invention and as such is inconsistent with its application and adherance. The scripture is clear and means what it says.

    Name me a single religion that has sent missionaries into the world to fight for womens rights? I feel by pointing out this root cause of these objections we cause kill 2 birds with one stone so to speak. We take a giant chunk of the womens rights roadblock out of the equation and we also promote a far more advanced form of intellectual working, namely one not based on the supernatural or interpretation of bronze aged text which are written by peasants that didn’t know the earth orbited the sun.

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