Question 74


“I have been pondering what to do about prescribing contraception, and I would like any input from residents or people who have ‘been there.’”
                                                                                ----  A Young Doctor

 The main question facing a young doctor beginning an ob/gyn internship is this: How do I help shape the culture of the medical profession with the authentic values of the Gospel? How do I bring my convictions, and values, to bear upon my chosen profession? Everyone must answer this question, according to his or her profession and circumstances. 

Specifically, how should a new doctor address the abortion, sterilization and contraceptive culture in modern medicine? 

Contraception and sterilization are serious matters. It is a false distinction to say that abortion is serious, but contraception and sterilization are only relatively serious. All of these are deadly to the soul, and are bad medicine. Abortion kills a perfectly healthy unborn baby. Sterilization destroys a perfectly healthy fertility system. Contraception turns against fertility, and temporarily sterilizes a sexual act which nature designed for procreation. The root cause of abortion is the abuse of sex; which is promiscuity and contraception. Contraception always leads to more abortion, not less. A principled doctor cannot play with any of these matters. They cannot present themselves as an accomplice to these deeds. 

“My program director stated that he would fully support me in whatever decisions I made.” This means that the intern can state his position: “I cannot perform abortions, sterilizations, or dispense contraception because they are bad medicine and because my conscience tells me that they are serious moral evils. There are thousands of other medical procedures I can perform, but I will not be an accomplice in these three.” 

He is a physician and therefore he should be healing people instead of putting harmful chemicals in healthy bodies. Prescribing contraceptives opens up the possibility of cooperating in giving abortifacients. This is both material and formal cooperation. 

Most patients look to their doctors for good medical advice. Doctors should take advantage of this and offer their reasons for encouraging people to stay away from the contraceptive culture. They could point to the multi-billion dollar industry the pharmaceuticals have created, and now promote through slick advertisements in the mass media. 

Doctors could explain the connection between contraception and their social consequences: greater promiscuity and infidelity in marriage, a 50% divorce rate, a lack of male responsibility, 35% of children now born outside of marriage, more single parent (and poor) families, dysfunctional families, an epidemic of STDs, lack of good male role models … Bad medicine has wide social and moral consequences. 

A Catholic doctor who sacrifices his principles, and violates his conscience, by making referrals to other doctors who will prescribe contraceptives and do sterilizations is giving bad example to other residents and patients. Their resistance to serious evils should be more than a token one. They should refuse to either prescribe contraceptives or make referrals. 

Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, encourages doctors thus:

“Let us express our highest admiration for doctors and for those health professionals who, in their mission desire to safeguard what is compatible with their Christian vocation rather than what corresponds to some human advantage. Therefore let them constantly pursue only those solutions that are in accord with faith and right reason. And let them strive to gain the agreement and the compliance of their colleagues in this matter. Moreover, let them consider it their special mission to acquire all necessary learning in this difficult area (NFP). Thereby they may be able to give good advice to spouses seeking their counsel and to direct them along the right path. Spouses rightly seek such direction from them” (HV 27). 

If the pressure on a new doctor to conform to the contraceptive culture is too great, then he or she should go elsewhere and seek employment where he will not have to violate his conscience. More Catholic and pro-life doctors should consider starting up totally pro-life medical clinics. There are many successful examples of these around the country, and these doctors are very willing to share their experiences. These clinics give a powerful witness to Gospel values and good medicine. Many families seek them out. 

There are some evils in our society that will only change when enough conscientious people refuse to participate in them. Abortion and contraception are two of these. 

The life issues belong to doctors and nurses in a special way. The Church looks to them to take real leadership in bringing the values of the Gospel, and the light of Christ, to the medical profession. This will create some career problems and temporary tensions, but this is the price that witnesses to the Faith have always been asked to give throughout the centuries. 

Cordially yours, 
Fr. Dan McCaffrey