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Dr Peter Saunders

Is the RCOG breaking the law by preventing pro-life doctors from receiving its degrees?

Dr Peter Saunders is CMF Chief Executive and was formerly a general surgeon. He also serves on the boards of the International Christian Medical and Dental Association and Coalition for Marriage and is campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance.


The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

RCOG

Last week I highlighted the fact that a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is barring doctors with pro-life views from receiving its degrees and diplomas. The story has been picked up by the Telegraph today.

Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing those ‘contraceptives’ which can act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to updated FSRH guidelines .

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) is also barring such doctors from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

Or to put it bluntly – if you refuse to fit coils or prescribe the morning after pill (MAP) then you can’t train to treat infertility, cervical cancer or HIV either. This effectively means that many thousands of doctors will not be able to pursue a career in gynaecology and sexual health.

And yet the use of emergency contraception and IUCDs like the coil makes up only a tiny part of the specialty of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) which also encompasses the following long list of conditions, treatments and procedures: screening for cancer of the cervix, ovary, breast, bowel, prostate and testes; all methods of contraception which act before fertilisation; reproductive endocrinology; SRH epidemiology; miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy; forensic gynaecology (management of sexual assault); genitourinary medicine (sexually transmitted infections, HIV, AIDs); infertility/subfertility (male and female); medical gynaecology (menorrhagia, dysmenorrhoea, dyspareunia, endometriosis, PCOS, amenorrhoea, pelvic pain, PMS ,continence, menopause); management of menopause; postnatal depression; prenatal diagnosis and psychosexual issues.

So the effect of this RCOG ban will be to drive those with a moral objection to interventions which kill early human embryos (including Christians, Muslims and others) not just out of family planning but out of all these other areas of medical care as well.

This is an extraordinary case of taking a sledge-hammer to a walnut more worthy of gulag or gestapo than what David Cameron has called a ‘Christian country’. Surely reasonable accommodation could be made for pro-life doctors? Can the RCOG really argue that there is no creative alternative to these onhealthy valium draconian measures?

After all, allowance is already made by the RCOG for doctors who have a moral objection toabortion to train in sexual and reproductive health because the Abortion Act 1967 has a conscience clause.

But the RCOG, it appears, is exploiting the fact that no similar legal provision exists for fitting coils or prescribing the MAP, by punishing doctors who want to abide by the Declaration of Geneva (which enjoins the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception).

This action by the RCOG is not just profoundly discriminatory but may also be illegal. Under equality legislation, it is unlawful to discriminate against people who have ‘protected characteristics’ – treating someone less favourably because of certain attributes of who they are. This is known as ‘direct discrimination’.

Examples of direct discrimination include dismissing someone because of a protected characteristic, deciding not to employ them, refusing them training, denying them a promotion, or giving them adverse terms and conditions all because of a protected characteristic.

These protected characteristics include religion or belief. It’s also possible to be discriminated against for not holding a particular (or any) religion or belief. Imagine the outcry if the College were to bar from training doctors who wished to prescribe the morning after pill. But the belief that killing embryos is OK, is a belief, just like the belief that it is not OK.

So it appears, at least on the surface, that the RCOG might well be guilty of direct discrimination. The RCOG is claiming in the Telegraph today that these guidelines are not new as if that somehow justifies their position. But the key issue is that the guidelines are not just and fair and now that the news is out I’m sure that many will be concerned.

I expect that some serious questions will be asked in parliament and elsewhere about this matter in the coming days and I would not be surprised if some government ministers got very angry as a result, or if a doctor, or a group of doctors and nurses, contemplated bringing a legal case against the College.

Posted by Dr Peter Saunders
CMF Chief Executive

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