UK Doc Advises Practicing Catholic OB-GYNs in Britain to 'Emigrate'

June 13, 2014 - 3:35 PM

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(CNSNews.com) -- Practicing obstetrics and gynecology as a faithful Catholic in Britain “would be the equivalent of trying to be a Catholic brothel owner,” says Dr. Charles O’Donnell, a consultant in emergency and intensive care medicine at Whipps Cross Hospital in London,

“I have yet to meet  a person who has successfully navigated the training program in obstetrics and gynecology and stayed true to the Magisterium [of the Catholic Church],” O’Donnell told CNSNews.com.

Speaking at a May 17 Catholic Medical Association (UK) conference on “Conscience and the NHS,” he reportedly told attendees during his speech on "Dealing with conscience, how is it done?" that emigration is the only option for a Catholic OB-GYN in Britain who wants to adhere to the tenets of his or her faith while practicing medicine.

The problem, O’Donnell told CNSNews.com, is neither inadequate conscience protection nor religious discrimination.

Britain’s Abortion Act of 1967 states that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement” to perform an abortion, though this does not “affect any duty to participate in treatment which is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman.”

However, according to an article in the Catholic Medical Quarterly, “life may be made difficult for [conscientious objectors] by means of embarrassment, intimidation, threats of bad references, discrimination at appointment and the occasional dismissal.”

Catholic Medical Quarterly

(Catholic Medical Association UK)

“It’s to do with service commitment,” O’Donnell told CNSNews.com.

"Once you've reached beyond the very junior points of training in the United Kingdom... one is left in a position where one cannot provide the service, because so much of the service involves issues that would actually conflict with the predominant secular view, so therefore would be the equivalent of you know, trying to be a Catholic brothel owner, let's say.

"You could certainly provide, you know, ensure the women were kept nice and warm and healthy, that they had food and health care, but you couldn't provide the principle service, and the principle service is of course something that would conflict with our moral views," he said.

"This is nothing about about discrimination against Catholics," he continued. "This has to do with fundamentally the difference between discrimination and legitimate distinction."

According to the Family Planning Association, 76 percent of British women between the ages of 18 and 49 were using some form of contraception in 2006-07. According to the UK Department of Health, abortions more than doubled in the UK between 1970 and 2012.

“The vast majority of people... sincerely believe this is in their best interests and consequently....no employer can actually employ you and give you a salary for not providing the service that most people think is in their interest,” O’Donnell said.

But where should a Catholic physician go? O’Donnell suggests “the private hospitals in the United States that are Catholic and stay true to the teachings of the Magisterium [or] the private hospitals in Spain - particularly in Navarre.”

However, Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, vice president of the Catholic Medical Association (US), told CNSNews.com that the United States faces “similar problems,” and that Catholic practioners “have an uphill battle in facing and dealing with their patients.”

He pointed to the “recent ACA [Affordable Care Act] from the government... the mandates for contraception, and... ethical guidelines that have been released by the American College of OB-GYNs to take away conscience rights of Catholic physicians.”

He also noted the problem that “85 percent of Catholics contracept,” leaving a Catholic practitioner with “maybe 15 percent of the population” as potential  patients.

However, Dr. Ruppersberger does not believe that these problems necessitate emigration. “I think that you need to stay where you are and be whatever light that you can be in the culture of darkness, to bring what is authentic women’s healthcare and make it available to women,” he said.

The Faculty of Reproductive and Sexual Healthcare (FRSH) in the UK, a branch of the Royal College of Gynecologists (RCOG), stated in February that “clinicians who hold moral or religious reservations about any contraceptive methods will be unable to fulfill the syllabus... this will render them ineligible for the award of the examination or completion of training certificates.” Furthermore, “failure to complete the syllabus renders candidates ineligible for the reward of a FRSH diploma.”

The Catholic Medical Association (UK) expressed “grave concern” about this decision, stating that it “discriminates against doctors” and calling upon the RCOG “to be more inclusive in its curricula and to accept the variety of beliefs around the ethics” of contraception.

For O’Donnell, the problem is ultimately rooted in people’s secular beliefs. “It’s a matter of changing the culture,” he told CNSNews.com. “At this point in history, that’s the situation.”

But he is optimistic that this can be accomplished. “As Catholics...we’re on the winning side,” he said. “Christ will triumph.”