Brendan Malone: Standing by his principles

When Nelson GP, Dr Joseph Hassan, sent a letter to his patients telling them he would no longer prescribe contraceptives, he made headlines.

His actions have been praised in some quarters, while others have nothing positive to say.

His letter has sparked debate all around the country. Many claim doctors should be forced to prescribe contraception and refer patients for abortions, no matter what their moral view regarding either issue. People suggesting such a course of action appear to be asking for a health system where the practitioners are required to obey the system without question.

But isn't this the same modus operandi employed by despotic and tyrannical regimes? Where the system forces people to act without engaging their conscience, and the free will of the individual is removed to further the ends of the ideology?

Such a system would be dangerous. It would require doctors to act solely according to the will of the state, and without thinking. Is this really what we want?

Dr Hassan made no secret of his position and he never set out to deceive.

His written notice to his patients left no uncertainty about where he stood and his reasons. Isn't this the kind of honesty we expect from our service providers?

I find this honest and upfront approach refreshing and I wish more organisations would follow suit in the way they deal with clients.

It is also clear, with his statement that fertility "is a gift to be looked after and not to be medicated for like a disease", he genuinely considers the health and wellbeing of his patients.

I've lost track of the number of times I have heard people complaining about doctors who blindly hand out prescriptions without considering the bigger picture.

This a case of a doctor doing the exact opposite and yet many people consider him public enemy No 1 for doing so.

When one delves deeper into the issues of this situation, it becomes apparent we need to engage in a wider discussion.

For many years we have accepted, without question, the use of contraceptives in our western society, but judging by the polarisation of opinion this case has created, it is time we asked whether they really are morally, emotionally, and medically beneficial.

Whatever your personal views are regarding the actions of Dr Hassan, there is no denying the fact that he has not withheld any life-saving medicines or treatment from his patients, and he has certainly not refused to see any particular patients on a prejudicial basis. He has simply asked his patients not to expect him to prescribe contraception or abortion, because in doing so he would be participating in something he believes to be morally wrong.

* Brendan Malone is the media liaison officer for the Catholic pro-life organisation Family Life International.

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