Monday 28 April 2014

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

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 draconian measures?

After all, allowance is already made by the RCOG for doctors who have a moral objection to abortion 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. 


  1. Doc

    If it is found to be 'direct discrimination' under the Equality Act 2010 - then there is no defence under the 'direct discrimination' provisions.

    It is possible that the policy, prima facie, is 'indirect discrimination' in that it appears the policy is neutral in its application as it applies across the board as it were.

    If it is the latter then the RCOG needs to make public if it has a defence of 'justified discrimination' and what that defence is (smart politicians are likely to fire their first round of artillery on this question).

    It is difficult to see what such a defence looks like. A lawyer armed with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 supported by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is likley to shred such a policy - as will any competent journalist.

    If our elected representatives decide to launch an intellectual salvo (as French intellectuals with their keen awareness of German National Socialism would respond) then it is clear to me that (middle-class) Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim voters will be attracted to, say, Conservative candidates and politicians.

    On the other hand I can see UKIP's intellectuals sharpening their razors.

    It appears that your LORD has provided the sacrifice (the RCOG) - who will step forward and slit the throat of the 'lamb'?

    It is written in your Judaeo-Christian book: 'the LORD will provide'.

  2. Are you thinking what I'm thinking boys?

    It is the Secularists in the RCOG that have installed 'alienation', 'division', 'incohesion'', apartheid founded on conscience.

    It is the RCOG who plays the role of the Secret Police - by denying training and jobs to all.

    The new god of the milleniums - Choice (Autonomy) - is suppressed.

    Who now will stand with the oppressor: RCOG?

  3. No doubt lawyers will also be considering arguemnts on the grounds of 'indirect race discrimination' for trainee Asian doctors. Sikhs like Jews are not only faith groups but also ethnic (race groups) under the Equality Act 2010.

    The RCOG may find its guidelines attract the allegation of racism.

  4. Further, given that Irish and Polish trainee doctors (high incidence of faith (Roman catholicism)) are likely to suffer 'indirect race discrimination' (under the sub-category nationality (under race)) of the Equality Act 2010 then the RCOG may find itself facing further allegations of racism from these groups.

    Arguments against the alleged racism of the RCOG could also be mounted under the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union law (Charter of Fundamental Human Rights).


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