Wednesday, 13 August 2008

TUC .... again ....

The draft agenda contains a second motion (motion P19) that will be of concern to Catholics. No need to be too concerned - abortion has been round before at the TUC, and, whatever "Congress believes", it is not binding on the policy making of affiliated unions! Again, the motion does not come from an affiliated union but from the TUC Women's Conference ... which, in all likelihood, is a caucus of activists of a particular frame of mind.

Like the motion from the TUC LGBT Conference, this motion too has an element of deception to it, though I am not in a position to know whether that is deliberate or not.

Congress believes abortion should be legally available at the request of the woman and the requirement that two doctors agree to her decision should be ended ....

Congress believes the law should be modernised to allow women, not doctors, to make the abortion decision, like every other medical procedure.

These two sentences make a huge assumption about the nature of the decisions made by doctors, and therefore about the nature of the practice of medicine. Unless I have misunderstood the nature of the medical profession, a patient consents to a procedure or course of treatment that has (1) been proposed to them by a medical professional, who has used the skill, knowledge and experience that is proper to them as a result of their training, and who has proposed this procedure or treatment (2) in response to a clinical condition arising from illness or injury that represents an impairment of their physical functioning. In some situations, the medical professional might be able to propose alternative courses of treatment, and in others only one.

It has always struck me that the availability of legal abortion and contraceptives (and perhaps some forms of cosmetic treatment) represents a departure from this understanding of the medical profession. This is because they are treatments that can be offered to a patient who presents without a clinical condition representing impairment of their physical functioning; they are treatments that can be offered to patients who are not actually ill or injured in any way. Not surprisingly, this alters significantly the nature of the patient-doctor relationship.

If I have understood it correctly, the 1967 Abortion Act does not consider the two doctors as "agreeing to the woman's decision". Instead, it refers to an abortion being lawful if it is undertaken on the advice of two medical practitioners. This does respect the nature of the medical profession as suggested at (1) and (2) above; though in practice (2) is undermined by the loose interpretation of the grounds for termination. (2) has also been undermined by the widening grounds on which termination can be lawful - it allows that the treatment proposed (1) does not have to be directed towards the clinical condition (2), creating a separation between the two. So, instead of treating the disabled child - which involves (1) and (2) being closely connected - an abortion is offered instead.

It is interesting, but not altogether surprising, to see how aspect (1) of the nature of medicine is being eroded as well in these contexts. This can be seen in the availability of hormonal contraceptives without a prescription, even free in some situations. It can be seen in the availability of the morning after pill without prescription, and, again, even free in some circumstances.

A particularly misleading aspect of the TUC motion is that it gives the impression that this derogation from the integrity of medical practice is true across the whole range of medicine: " every other medical procedure". This seems to me to be blatantly not the case. I suspect that the areas of contraceptives and abortion are just about the only areas where a doctor simply aquiesces to the wishes of a patient, without a medical indication. In most other situations, a medical professional who prescribed treatments simply on request without a relevant clinical indication would be struck off.

Another part of the TUC motion that I noticed is the following:

Congress also notes that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently in Parliament is subject to anti-abortion amendments to reduce the abortion time limit form 24 weeks and impose a "cooling off" period and compulsory counselling. Congress believes such measures would have appalling consequences for women seeking abortion and assume women are not capable of making their own decision.

In other areas of life, cooling off periods and a requirement for proper advice are accepted as necessary to prevent the exploitation of clients or to ensure that a duty of care towards them is properly met. It is quite incomprehensible - to me, at least - that similar standards of care should not be applied in connection with abortion. And doubly incomprehensible that they can be considered as having "apalling consequences for women". I would have expected supporters of abortion, in fact, to welcome provisions such as these, because they represent the fulfilling of a duty of care towards women. Given that the rest of the motion calls for all the points of the pro-abortion agenda around the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, I ask myself what the agenda underlying this motion (and, by implication, the pro-abortion lobby as whole) really is.

Since abortion is a procedure that is available to patients who do not suffer from a clinical condition, it can be marketed or promoted to the potential patients themselves (most other medicines are marketed to the medical profession, who make the decisions about their use, and not to the patients). So it becomes important, for those with an interest in abortion, that nothing comes in the way of this promotion .... not even a duty of care towards women.

Sorry, I really cannot understand this motion in any other way.

UPDATE: see also John Smeaton's post here.

PS. Full text of the draft agenda for the TUC Congress can be found on the TUC website. For those outside the UK, the TUC is the Trades Union Congress. Many trades unions affiliate to the TUC.

PPS. Luke Gormally has a good account of the nature of health and of medicine as a profession in a chapter of "Issues for a Catholic Bioethic".


Anonymous said...

I'm rather dim i'm afraid -Why are the Tuc women's congress getting involved with abortion? Aren't there enough employment concerns of their members to be attending to?

Anonymous said...

this is nothing to do with the TUC directly but seeing Our Lady of the Assumption Warwick st mentioned in today's deaths column i checked out mass times and there is one at 545pm on Holy days
When i was looking up Mass times there was a heading from the past about the first lesbian and gay mass held there which i suppose indirectly is a link to your post on the TUC!

Joe said...

I think one needs to be very careful in what one says about the "gay Masses" at Warwick Street. These have been the subject of considerable controversy elsewhere.

1. A celebration of Mass is, first of all, a celebration of Mass - and adding particular terms to describe such a celebration as if that changes the nature of the celebration is not quite right. Sometimes, a celebration of Mass takes place with the participation of and particular pastoral concern for a special group - eg young people, medical staff, a particular national community, families, etc. As I have understood the "gay Masses" at Warwick Street, this is the intended nature of these celebrations.

2. There are apostolates in the Church particularly dedicated to those affected by addictions such as alcohol and drug abuse. These are not seen as a condoning of those behaviours by the Church.

3. From memory, a statement has been made by the parish priest responsible for these celebrations that they are an offering of pastoral care in full accord with the terms of the teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality, and guidance for pastoral provision arising from that teaching. I saw such a statement on an internet source at the time of the appointment of a new priest to Warwick Street, who I am assuming is still at the parish.

All of which is trying to say that, in making the provision at Warwick Street, the Catholic Church should not be seen as in any way endorsing practice contrary to its teaching. That, at least, is the publicly stated principle of what is happening at Warwick Street. Much of the comment about it elsewhere has been about whether or not this is matched by the actual experience.