Verity Johnson: Tirade on 'female duty' has no place in doctor's office

You definitely can't start moralising on a woman's failure to do her biological duty.
You definitely can't start moralising on a woman's failure to do her biological duty.

Being English, making a fuss is as painful to me as losing a kidney.

But Melissa Pont being refused the pill is worth sacrificing both kidneys and several ribs for. A doctor first refuses her contraception and then lectures her on her "reproductive duty".

If that doctor tried that with women in my family, he would be kicked so hard he could never do his reproductive duty again.

It's not refusing contraception that I have a problem with. If you are a Catholic doctor and don't believe in contraception, fine. You're entitled to that opinion. And yes, if you feel that prescribing contraception violates your ethics, you should be able to opt out of giving it.

What you can't do is project your religious views on to others.

And you definitely can't start moralising on a woman's failure to do her biological duty. First, because you'll get your stethoscope shoved somewhere that makes toilet trips difficult.

Secondly, because you should accord this woman's beliefs the same respect yours have been given. Thirdly, people go to professionals for rational, objective advice, not an ethical interrogation.

It reminds me of when my friend went to our school's career counsellor saying that she wanted to go to university. The counsellor told her she wouldn't be suited for it - another unwanted, unprofessional personal judgment instead of an independent response.

Dr Lee should have just politely refused to prescribe her the pill and shown her to a doctor who would. But pulling out the white hat and settling in for a lecture has enormous consequences.

If all doctors sermonised the way Dr Lee did, it would destroy a woman's confidence to ask for contraception.

Melissa Pont is 23 and she says she felt judged.

What if you were 16, got your first serious boyfriend, and wanted to go on the pill? You have to psych yourself up for at least a week just to ask the doctor in the first place. Then to be told you had the morals of a banker and the chastity of Courtney Love?

You'd probably never ask for contraception again. Then you'd really be in trouble.

We need to be creating a responsive, non-threatening environment for girls to get contraception. This is why we can't have doctors who feel they can push their personal beliefs on patients.

In this situation, a doctor's role is to do everything possible to provide an alternative doctor. After all, a doctor still has a duty to the patient's needs.

Now, the Medical Council of New Zealand has recently updated its guidelines. A doctor in Dr Lee's case has to tell the patient they have a right to see another doctor.

But the rules don't say that the doctor must help the patient find alternative treatment or refer the patient to another doctor. This obviously isn't tight enough if it lets Melissa's case (where she had to argue for another doctor) go through.

The doctor's surgery would have a part to play here, too.

Melissa's surgery in Wairau Community Clinic has a pamphlet saying some doctors don't prescribe contraceptives. I know that when I'm in the doctors' office I'm not reading the information pamphlets; I'm more concerned with Kate's toilet breaks and lettuce intake.

There should be signs the size of Mt Eden saying "some doctors do not prescribe contraception". Then people would pay attention and could make good decisions about who they see.

So please, Melissa, make a fuss! Demand apologies, answers and better advice.

And the board upholding the complaint will show that doctors cannot launch tirades against a client's choices. It'll reinforce that doctors should be objective. And it'll encourage other women who've had similar experiences not to be ashamed to seek objective contraceptive advice.

This is too serious a topic to get wrong. A woman's organs are no one's but her own. Unless of course you want to give me some kidney replacements.

Verity Johnson is an Auckland student.

- NZ Herald

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