Patient welfare overrides doctors’ morals

A doctor’s job has never been easy and might even conflict with personal morals. But that does not excuse them from making a choice based on the patient’s – not their own – best interests. Some oppose administering birth control or the morning-after pill, while, on the other side of the fence, family practitioners often prescribe both. Patients themselves must also go through difficult times. Rape victims, for instance, need all the help and support they can get.

The Minnesota Medical Association also remains divided on whether to completely help a rape victim or just tend the wounds. They are discussing whether to lobby for a state law requiring doctors to provide access and information about emergency contraceptives or refer the victim to another doctor who could do so. Emergency contraception like the morning-after pill delivers a dose of progesterone and estrogen nearly equal to three or four birth control pills. It prevents ovaries from releasing an egg or, if one has already been released, it keeps the egg from becoming embedded in the uterus. What it does not do is kill or abort an already-growing embryo or fetus. It simply prevents one from forming, which is why it must be taken within 72 hours. After 72 hours, the woman must seek information about abortion if she does not want to carry the child.

A doctor’s job is to serve in the best interest of the patient and providing this information clearly does so. It should not matter what the doctor’s personal stance on birth control is. The chairwoman of the Association’s Committee of Public Health and Preventative Medicine argues the intent is to educate and encourage every health practitioner to provide rape victims with information about safe and effective pregnancy-prevention medicine. She also said rape victims are often unaware of such medications or are too traumatized to ask about them.

Doctors who truly consider the patient’s best interest will provide them with this information. If a woman were to become pregnant because she didn’t know about the alternatives, she would have the added stress of deciding whether to abort or carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption. Also, if a woman chooses to abort, she would have the additional trauma of dealing with post-abortion stress syndrome.

Doctors should see these potential pitfalls and not project personal beliefs on an already distraught individual. The MMA should work with Minnesota legislators to make this practice uniform in the state’s health care industry. It won’t force a pill down a victim’s throat but it will allow her to make an informed choice.