*sigh* This article link has been sitting in my bookmarks page for over half a year, but I hadn’t managed to post it yet because reading the article infuriated me so much that I couldn’t come up with anything constructive to blog about it in context. But here goes.
“‘Magic Words’ Required at the Catholic STI Clinic” comes from the backlogged files of Carnal Nation and is a serious indictment of religious-based medical organizations. I try not to hate on the religious sector of the country, despite a generally acknowledged antagonism between religious doctrine (not just Christian, but most religions) and my sex-positive morality, because I find that most people subscribing to religious beliefs do not advocate for the kinds of practices that I find abominable. Most religious people are wonderful, friendly, and caring.
BUT religious institutions I often have a much bigger problem with. In this particular article. Megan Andelloux, a sex educator and certified sexologist, volunteered for perhaps the least pleasant of all volunteer opportunities- to be a dummy for clinicians to practice giving gyno exams. During the course of this volunteer experience, one of the doctors asks a fair question:
“…while a brave soul slides on a fresh pair of gloves to conduct the second exam, I hear a question asked by one of the other professionals. “At what point do you take a Pap smear?” The veteran facilitator’s shoulders subtly raise and she quietly answers, “This is a Catholic-based hospital.”
This is, of course, not a satisfactory answer to Andelloux, so later in the workshop, she returns to the clinician’s question.
She looks slightly defeated by my question….. “This STI unit is funded by a Catholic hospital. Therefore, we don’t conduct Pap smears because that type of testing doesn’t fall in line with family values and abstinence only until marriage.” The room goes dead silent. She said it, and in doing so, messed up everyone’s head. We’re all thinking, “This is an STI clinic, a medical group that tests for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, treats herpes and genital warts, but does not conduct Pap smears because they believe it goes against their religion (and therefore the hospital’s) values?!”
Andelloux uncovers through this conversation a series of problems with a medical system that does not adequately separate religious doctrine from medical practice and care. Not only do STI clinicians there not do pap smear exams to test for cervical cancer, they do not even INFORM their patients that they are not running these tests. Moreover, the same clinic refuses to administer birth control for the use of pregnancy prevention, even though that is one of the chief roles of an STI and sexual health facility.
Now I acknowledge that every person is entitled to their own religious beliefs, and that includes the desire to abstain from sex until marriage. But when an institution imposes these beliefs on patients, who may or may not know:
- What risks they run and thus, need to be tested for
- What medical care they are entitled to
then the institution is engaging in medical negligence. When a patient may contract HPV and not know it or be forced to abort or carry to term an unintended pregnancy because she could not access adequate medical treatment and care, it is no longer a question of religious morals, but of medical obligation to provide the services that would prevent these things from happening.
This whole practice stinks of the debate raised by Pharmacists for Life around 2008, when some pharmacies began refusing to fill birth
control prescriptions or take orders for Plan B medication. I was similarly outraged then, especially as the daughter of a pharmacist (raised Catholic, nonetheless!) who has gone to all lengths to ensure than his patients are safely treated with the medication that will protect their health and wellbeing. It is NOT the prerogative of any medical professional- be they a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or surgeon, to use morality to justify the refusal of medical care to a patient…
See, and there I go ranting again. There are just so many things wrong with this picture. The founding fathers saw fit to be clear about the separation of church and state in our constitution, and I believe that applies not only to government and schools, but to all civil institutions, including hospitals and pharmacies. I want to see a world where, at the very least, getting tested at a clinic or filling a prescription for plan B will be about the patients needs and not the desires of the doctor.