Monday, March 17, 2008

Doctors` Orders

The Times reports on new guidance published today by the General Medical Council suggests that doctors do need to be told where their priorities lie when personal beliefs clash with medical procedures. “You must make the care of your patient your first concern,” the GMC tells the 128,000 doctors practising in the UK. “We expect [doctors] to set aside their personal beliefs where this is necessary,” it continues.

Doctor knows best, usually. But the GMC says doctors must ensure they retain patients’ confidence by sharing their scientific and medical expertise, not their personal codes of morality.

Doctors cannot obstruct a woman seeking advice about the termination of a pregnancy.

Doctors may recuse themselves where they feel their own moral, religious or cultural beliefs demand such action. But they cannot allow this privilege to hinder the patient’s pursuit of care. A Roman Catholic doctor can refuse to become directly involved in abortions, but must see that a woman is referred to a doctor who is willing to help. “Serious or persistent failure” to follow the guidance could result in a doctor being struck off.

In the meantime, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has not been idle.

On its website, the Church has started to provide guidance on the Mental Capacity Act. The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has produced a booklet “Mental Capacity Act & Living Wills - A Practical Guide for Catholics” regarding the Act which affects the care of anyone who is unable to make decisions for themselves. These may be financial decisions, choices about where to live, or how someone is to be cared for.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a more interventionist stance on the part of the Bishops’ Conference into the area of medico-legal ethics.

Hopefully the Bishops will also examine the new Code produced by the GMC and provide its comments and its own guidance.