Christians’ anger at plans to sack GPs if they refuse to give single women the Pill
Guidelines state it would be ‘discriminatory’ for doctors not to prescribe either the Pill or morning-after pill just because they don’t believe in sex outside marriage
By Sophie Borland
PUBLISHED: 01:09, 23 May 2012 | UPDATED: 11:55, 23 May 2012
Doctors could be struck off for refusing to give contraceptive pills to women who aren’t married.
New guidelines from the General Medical Council state that it would be ‘discriminatory’ for doctors not to prescribe either the Pill or morning-after pill just because they don’t believe in sex outside marriage.
The rules, which also warn doctors that they face being struck off for refusing to carry out sex-change operations, have angered senior Catholic bishops and campaigners.
Critics fear the guidelines will marginalise Christian doctors and others with strong moral beliefs.
They warn the rules will affect a ‘significant number’ of doctors who will be pressurised to carry out treatment against their consciences.
The draft GMC guidelines, entitled ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’, tell professionals they ‘cannot be willing to provide married women with contraception but unwilling to prescribe it for unmarried women’.
The rules state it is also against the law for doctors to refuse to carry out ‘gender reassignment’, as it too counts as discriminating against a certain group of patients.
Doctors are warned that ‘serious or persistent failure to follow this guidance will put your registration at risk’.
But Bishop Tom Williams of the Archdiocese of Liverpool warned that the guidelines were in fact discriminating against ‘certain groups of doctors.’
He said they risked creating an ‘atmosphere of fear’ in which doctors would be ‘prohibited from ever expressing their own religion’.
Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship and a former surgeon, warned that the guidelines were yet another example of ‘legislation being used to marginalise Christian health professionals in Britain.
He said: ‘The problem is that 21st century British medicine now involves practices which many doctors regard as unethical.‘
This latest guidance by the GMC will therefore be seen by many as a further attack on the right to practise independently in accordance with one’s conscience which lies at the heart of being a true health professional.’
Although doctors can refuse to carry out some treatments on ethical grounds – such as abortions, for example – the guidelines say they must always ensure patients are referred on to a colleague who is willing to do the procedure.
However they are banned from refusing to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women or carrying out sex-change operations as this is deemed to be ‘discriminating’ against certain patients.
The guidelines are only a draft, and doctors are being encouraged to suggest improvements for the final version which is expected later this year.
Last year Christian pharmacists warned that they faced being sacked for refusing to hand out the morning-after pill following new guidance from their watchdog.
The rules from the General Pharmaceutical Council stated that they had to warn their employers if they were unhappy about prescribing it.
Many Christian, Muslim and Jewish medical professionals object to the drug, as they regard it as a form of early abortion.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: ‘We know that personal beliefs are central to the lives of many doctors and patients.
‘Our draft guidance seeks to balance doctors’ desire to practise medicine in line with their own personal beliefs, whilst ensuring that they are providing patients access to appropriate medical treatment and services.
‘We do want to hear what doctors and patients think about the draft guidance and so we hope as many as possible will respond to our consultation by 13 June.’