THE POSITION of Catholic doctors who have moral objections to the prescription of artificial contraception is looking increasingly vulnerable following the line taken at the British Medical Association conference in Manchester.
The conference backed a statement by Dr Alexander Macara, chairman of the BMA's ethical committee, to the effect that if doctors refused to supply the pill or give guidance on contraception to girls under the age of 16, they could face disciplinary action by the General Medical Council.
"If any doctor refuses to supply services which he has contracted to provide and does not ensure his patients have access to someone else who will, he could be at risk of a charge of serious professional misconduct", he said.
But it was being said in Catholic . medical circles this week that there would always be cases in which the parents of a young patient would have to be informed. ln the case of a girl of ten, for example, it would clearly be irresponsible of a doctor not to inform the parents in the event of it being considered necessary to prescribe contraception.
In the opinion of Mr Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the hard line taken by the BMA might cause Catholic doctors to be discriminated against when applying for posts in general practice, in the event of a practice wishing to preempt any potential controversy.
In fact there is an increasing impression that such discrimination is already being practised on grounds of Catholic doctors' objections to artificial contraception and abortion, but substantive evidence of this has not yet been forthcoming.
Mr Coote also suggested that the strong line taken by the BMA could be construed a,s a response to the equally extreme but opposite view being expressed in the campaign initiated by Mrs Victoria Gillick.
Mrs Gillick has been untiring in her attempts to establish the right of a parent to be informed if a girl under the age of 16 is prescribed contraception. She told the Catholic Herald this week: "It is staggering the unethical lengths to which the medical profession has gone. The BMA is essentially a trade union, and as such operates a closed shop: any doctor who doesn't conform is ostracised"