Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Religion, Morality, and Women's Health: A Question of Professionalism

I guess news travels more slowly to the West of NA… Last night the Reno Gazette Journal contained a disturbing piece of news (thanks, Jamie) that I have since learned has been reported in the Washington Post and other places on Feb 7 with a follow up in the NY Times on Feb 13 and letters to the follow-up in the Feb 18 edition. The news begins with the publishing of an article entitled, “Religion, Conscience, and Controversial Clinical Practices” by Farr A. Curlin, Ryan E. Lawrence, Marshall H. Chin, and John D. Lantos in The New England Journal of Medicine Vol 356:593-600. Here the authors present the results of a survey they conducted asking 2000 practicing US physicians (1144 responded) about their views on controversial medical practices and their clinical responses to a physician being asked by a patient to perform a procedure or prescribe a medication to which they were morally or religiously opposed. Of the three questions asked of the physicians in the survey, two involved issues of women’s reproductive rights: contraception and abortion. 42 percent objected to prescribing birth control for adolescents without parental approval, and 52 percent opposed abortion for failed contraception. While a majority of the physicians surveyed believed that it is their responsibility to refer patients to other physicians who would be willing to perform procedures or prescribe medications that they, because of moral or religious beliefs, would not be willing to do themselves, 18% maintained that they were under no professional or ethical obligation to do so. Physicians who described themselves as very religious were much less likely to believe they were obligated to present all options to a female patient about contraception or abortion or to refer patients to someone who did not condemn contraception or abortion. This means that millions of women are being taken care of by physicians whose religious or moral views could be compromising their health and their lives. Of the bioethicists interviewed for the news reports of this survey which I have read, none were women or men known particularly for their work on women’s health issues.

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