BY SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC TRAINEE doctors may be able to avoid assisting in vasectomies by using European human rights laws, or by telling their employers that they are willing to take a pay cut, new advice claims.
As part of their training junior physicians are obliged to work for four months in a hospital urology department where men wish to be sterilised. But the Catholic Church teaches that sterilisation, unless for medical necessity, is “against the moral law”, bringing such trainees into conflict with the demands of their profession. A senior Catholic doctor is now offering his junior counterparts a blueprint of how to avoid onthe-job training sessions.
Dr Mike Delany tells them to be open about their conscientious objections from the outset and by spelling out their positions in a letter to the consultant urologist they will be sent to work with.
They are advised to accept a loss of pay for any hours of operative or pre-operative care they miss but promise to undertake all the class work and to look after patients after their operations.
They should also inform their employer that their rights to conscientious objection are upheld by the European Convention on Human Rights, Dr Delany said.
Writing in the November edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly, Dr Delany said: “It is pretty inevitable that you will find yourself working for a consultant who regularly performs vasectomy as part of NHS services.
“You do have the option, of course, to ‘duck and dive’, dealing with problems as they arise but experience has shown that this is generally an imprudent strategy which will irritate or anger your boss who, quite understandably, may view you as obstructive, not to say inconsiderate and discourteous,” he says in the article entitled “How Do I Avoid Assisting in Vasectomies?” Instead, Dr Delany, who works as a GP in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, recommends a letter explaining the belief of the trainee that a vasectomy would not be in the best interest of the patient.
In a draft letter he has prepared, junior doctors should say they are “aware that a disruption to the daytoday working of the firm might be anticipated by virtue of my employment and that it might seem that I expect a lighter workload”.
“However, I would be quite prepared to take a commensurate pay cut in respect of the services I would not be providing while continuing to work the same hours as other junior doctors of my grade,” the letter says.
It adds: “My sincerely held beliefs are based upon scientific, philosophical and religious positions which I understand to be compatible with the rights afforded to me by the European Convention on Human Rights.” Trainee doctors are reassured that “most, if not all” consultants would see their position as a “non-issue” and would grant their requests.
“One benefit of the liberal times we live in is that there are many true liberals in consultant posts who will view your position as simply one more among many,” Dr Delany said.
Both the Catholic and Anglican Churches held traditional moral objections to sterilisation and contraception, but the Church of England reversed its position in the 1920s. In 1968 Pope Paul VI, against the wishes of his advisers, published Humanae Vitae, a papal encyclical forbidding married couples from regulating their fertility by such practices.
Doctors did not have a right to object to involvement in vasectomies until the passage of the 2010 Equalities Act, which gives legal protection to “philosophical beliefs”.
Earlier this year an NHS Trust backed down from trying to force two Catholic nurses from assisting in chemical abortions after their lawyers invoked the provisions of the 2010 Act in defence of their “pro-life” convictions and thr right to freedom of conscience.