The Truth About Dr. Straw-man

In last week’s edition of the New University, AE Anteater wrote an article entitled “Aborting Misguided Policies: Patients May Face Choosy Doctors,” about a straw-man doctor who exercises his free conscience by refusing to write a prescription for “the Pill,” an act Elias characterizes as bordering on the stupidly malicious, and certainly deserving of his and our scorn.
I will instead reserve my scorn for the grounds on which Elias attacks the hypothetical doctor’s decision not to prescribe hormonal birth control, as well as the article’s unsurprising tone of anti-religious hysteria, bigotry and frankly a shocking contempt for our Constitutional rights—elements that when mixed together exhibit a generous dose of ignorance about some basic and pertinent facts.
The main thrust of the attack against Dr. Straw-man seems to be that he, as a medical professional, has no authority or right to deny his patient what is asked of him because he will face “huge trouble” or “[a]t the very least … an immediate decrease in patients because they would all go [elsewhere] for birth control.” Somehow, I don’t think a person already willing to make a stand against something he feels is wrong would feel the sting of these repercussions.
However, let us examine more closely the claim that the doctor should not refuse to prescribe a treatment he does not agree with. This is tantamount to saying that the doctor has no right to a conscience when he dons his white coat and stethoscope; his duties as a professional override his rights as an individual.
However, as Americans we should know that this is utterly false. Protection of inalienable human rights has been a fundamental attribute of American society since its inception as an independent political entity. In plain and unmistakable language, it’s in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence. Not only are all men created equal, they are also endowed with certain inalienable rights. All people have an equal claim to the inalienability of their rights, so that when such claims conflict, it becomes a matter of whose rights are imposing on the legitimate rights of another, and that is the real crux of the matter. There is no caveat here for professionals, nor is there one in the Constitution that eventually proceeded from the fundamentals established by the Declaration of Independence.
To apply this to the issue at hand, it means the doctor has a reasonable expectation to exercise his own free will, as much as anyone else does, regardless of his profession. In the hypothetical situation described by Elias, Dr. Straw-man does not “impose” his personal beliefs on the patient since she is not impeded in any way from seeking the services she desires elsewhere. At worst, she is merely inconvenienced. But a simple Google search will reveal a list of about 10 Planned Parenthood brick-and-mortar locations near Irvine, none of them more than a half-hour away by car or bus. At the very least, the patient has all of those options available to her so that she can find a doctor who has no objections to administering the services she desires.
On the other hand, forcing Dr. Straw-man to administer “the Pill” against his conscience or even against his professional opinion is an undeniable imposition against his rights. To do so would force him to comply with what he believes is immoral. Only in a truly barbaric society must a citizen surrender the beliefs of his conscience in order to conform to the dictates of the state. As the matter stands, all American citizens are required by law to support Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) with their tax dollars. There is no room for debate here because if you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail. So who is really facing an imposition here?
Of course, there is another dimension to this issue that has been neglected. To be fair, it is not a fact that is well promoted via the expected channels and organizations. There is, actually, one very good reason why any doctor who takes the Hippocratic Oath should seriously give pause before blithely handing out hormonal birth control pills like candy. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified combined hormonal contraceptives (including the common Pill and other non-barrier means of contraception) as a Group I Human Carcinogen. In layman’s terms, this means that hormonal contraceptives are linked to causing or contributing to the development of cancer—in this case, breast cancer.
If the Doctor is valued as anything other than a revolving door to get the medicines and treatments we desire, then we must admit that a refusal to administer medication to a patient can be based on something more than religious grounds. The doctor may simply have some prudential reservation against certain treatments, and he may deny people what they desire as a function of his primary duty to preserve his patients’ health. Pregnancy may be “unwanted,” but it is not an unnatural process in the body. Cancer is unnatural and a doctor may argue that he has a greater duty to prevent illness and disease resulting from the disruption of natural bodily processes than to help his patient prevent pregnancy by methods that, in the long run, might actually kill her.”Normal and real birth control is called self-control,” said Gilbert Keith Chesterton some 80 years ago.
Barring rape or drunkenness (neither of which is a factor in the case presented in Elias’ article), pregnancy is entirely a function of a woman’s chosen behavior. Instigating a witch-hunt against some doctors for refusing to validate the lifestyle choices of their patients would harm far too many people with real illnesses who actually need medical assistance.

Brandon Koepp is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at bkoepp@uci.edu.