Catholic Church says “Thalidomide-analogue cancer trial? No contraceptive advice for you!”

icon of the Calvary Mater hospital, inside a red 'ban' symbol.

Emphases are mine.

SMH: Catholic hospital bars contraception advice:

“Cancer doctors are on a collision course with a Catholic health organisation over new religion-based rules which prohibit them recommending contraception to patients taking a drug derived from thalidomide, which can cause severe birth defects.

Under a clampdown at Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital, doctors recruiting patients into clinical trials may no longer distribute information about contraception. Instead they are allowed to offer a ”statement of reproductive risks”, which advises participants to avoid pregnancy but gives no information on how to achieve this.

Michael Seldon, a staff specialist haematologist at the hospital, which operates as part of NSW Health and is the city’s only cancer treatment centre, said he was considering defying his bosses and providing the information anyway when the first Newcastle patients suffering myelodysplastic syndrome, multiple myeloma or chronic lymphocytic leukaemia join national trials of the drug lenalidomide within weeks.

The drug’s chemical structure is extremely similar to thalidomide, and the risk of birth defects such as limb and heart deformities is considered so serious that its manufacturer, Celgene, advises even men who have had a vasectomy to use a condom. It insists women have two negative pregnancy tests before starting treatment, and then use two forms of contraception simultaneously.

Dr Seldon, a practising Catholic, said he wanted to offer the specific advice.” […]

Martin Laverty, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, defended the hospital: ”Scientists, ethicists, academics should feel very free to criticise it, but appreciate a Catholic hospital is built on those [ethical] foundations.”

What fucking ethical foundations are those, Laverty? Go on, elaborate. Without misogyny. BET YOU CAN’T.

More from the ABC:

Dr Seldon says patients are often so shocked when they are diagnosed with cancer, verbal warnings about a drug trial are not enough.

“One of the difficulties in being a doctor in this situation is that when you mention the word ‘cancer’ 99 per cent of people switch off, they don’t hear anything else you say. So even if you give them advice about contraception, the chance of them actually hearing it is quite small.”

Enforced Catholic medicine in public healthcare (and in near-monopoly private healthcare environments, come to that) is a disgrace, it’s been the same sort of disgrace for a long long long time, and we need many, many more publicised stories like this.

We need many, many more people starting to get involved in action, many many more doctors putting their money where their mouth is (this could make a HUGE difference), and, in my opinion, ultimately far far less (i.e. zero) organised religion in politics, public health, and public education.  I’d actually like them out of all medical education too please. Allowing the registration of Catholic medical schools was a big mistake, and only serves to cement the hold of the Church over our system. Unfortunately, I can’t see a viable path to reversing that now.

But what sort of action can we as individuals get involved in? I’m beginning to suspect that real movement could only happen if we have a direct, sustained assault to get all establishment-Catholicism adherents and all other right-wing anti-woman religious fuckers out of Parliament, and I just can’t see that happening right now.

I wish a boycott of all doctors who have privileges at Catholic hospitals would work, but I fear it wouldn’t, with the undersupply of specialist labour being what it is.

What are we left with? Letter-writing campaigns? Any further ideas?

Also, people critiquing this hospital’s (and the Catholic hospital system’s) approach in general? It would be nice if we could do it without a craptonne of ableism.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, medicine, religion, social justice

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16 replies

  1. This makes me absolutely furious. I am fast turning ‘zealot’ on the issue of religion encrouching into institutions outside the church – once you look around it is everywhere and it is not the benign influence it is sold to us as. Fine for believers, they signed up for this, but for the rest of us it feels sneaky and domineering, all at once.

  2. I have no words for this. This is the same kind of cruel, bullcrap decision that lead to the Catholic church reprimanding a doctor last year for performing a life-saving abortion. That both the child AND the mother would have died if they had not was utterly irrelevant. In their view, clearly she deserved to die for not having perfect pregnancy health.

    I say this about few things or people, but between views like this and the child molestation issues, I truly have come to believe the Catholic church is evil and needs to be dismantled and purged from the Earth. What they offer is so tainted by their heinous views that it is unspeakable, and in most cases the services could easily be taken over by some other group if the opportunity was there.

  3. This particular straw has led this particular camel to popping up an Out Atheist ribbon in the banner area.
    Seeing as I’ve just typed out and deleted half a dozen different rants I’ll just leave it there.

  4. It’s not a game-changer on its own, but I wonder if aggregating data would be useful, in the style of ? As in, for every hospital in Australia, provide answers to (sample):
    Do they perform first trimester terminations and if so, are they subject to approval/review and what are the guidelines?
    Do they perform second and third trimester terminations and if so, are they subject to approval/review and what are the guidelines?
    Do they terminate ectopic pregnancy and if so, medically? and when surgically, with which surgical procedures?
    Do they target single or young pregnant people for pregnancy counselling that particularly emphasises placing the child for adoption? (I am not sure how much this happens in the Australia, and it’s probably one of the harder ones to get a firm statement on even where it does happen, it’s not such a bright line as “we don’t perform terminations”.)
    Do they provide contraceptive information in general and advice when requested?
    Do they insert IUDs/IUSs?
    Do they perform sterilisations? Are these subject to guidelines based on age, parental status, marital status or similar?
    If a likely/certain disability is diagnosed prenatally, do they avoid simply assuming/encouraging a termination?
    It could go with some kind of Real Gynaecology (Etc) Rights list or something, like the Baby Friendly Hospital checklist. Perhaps there is such a thing already.
    As I said, not a game-changer, but having that sort of information in one place can get people (journalists, for example, because it makes their research much easier) talking and active. You could have Y/N/N: Catholic as answers to questions, for this purpose.

  5. My first clinical rotation in med school was OB/GYN and I chose a Catholic hospital to do it – it was horrifying, and in fact was my radicalizing experience. This is just unspeakable.

  6. I’d argue there needs to be more intervention from a public health perspective at a governmental level, starting with a commitment to ensure religiously-based healthcare providers aren’t allowed monopoly healthcare provider status in various communities – so that, for example, the Calvary hospital at Newcastle isn’t in the position of being the only cancer treatment centre in the city.
    Basically, if the various religiously sponsored healthcare providers want to be placing doctrinally-determined limitations on medical treatment (such as restrictions on birth control advice, or choices for pregnancy termination, end-of-life care etc) then there is an obligation on the part of both the religiously sponsored healthcare providers and the various state and federal governments to ensure there are equivalent options available for those who aren’t actually believers in the particular religion in question. Religious dogma and doctrine should never be a determining force for medical treatment.
    I’d also point to the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of what is expected of Christian believers with regard to ethical treatment of others – they’re expected not to pass along the other side of the road, but rather to aid their neighbour, regardless of who this neighbour is, what the neighbour believes, or whether or not the neighbour can assist them in return. Aid is supposed to be offered without expectation of reciprocation, because it is the right thing to do. Insisting that those who are providing the aid purposefully limit the aid they are providing in order to comply with the decrees of latter-day Pharisees and Sadducees is not acting in the spirit of Christ.

  7. @Meg: Sad as it makes me, I don’t see this happening. If anything, more and more rhetoric of ‘Christian Values’ is creeping into politicians vocabulary, and they do not mean the kind of Christian values of treating people well, respecting and loving each other, or taking care of those less fortunate. Somewhere along the line ‘Christian Values’ become a nice way of saying ‘Ultra Conservative Values’ and specifically is against such ‘softhearted’ means, preferring ‘austerity’ and discipline over compassion, and equating any kind of social, mental, or physical malady as being a moral failure. It makes me very sad and I keep wondering why the moderates of /all/ the religions out there, not just this one ultra-powerful one, are not standing up for their own beliefs in the face of this.

  8. I wonder what kind of legal advice the Calvary Mater Hospital is receiving to practice such a lack of duty of care.

  9. What are we left with? Letter-writing campaigns? Any further ideas?
    I’d say a name and shame/name and praise combo campaign for the people who impose or challenge these rules – but those we’d shame would be proud, and would take our praise of others as ammunition to use against them. So I don’t know if that’s a useful suggestion.

  10. those we’d shame would be proud, and would take our praise of others as ammunition to use against them.

    I wonder how true this is in the Australian context. I don’t really have good stats to hand, but I don’t feel that there’s as significant a proportion of the population opposed to the use of contraceptives or extra-marital sex as in the US. (Abortion is more of an issue, and there’s undoubtedly a fair bit of non-radical reservations around contraception and sex, as in, judging of too young, too many partners, use/non-use by sex workers, too few/many children, not the “right” type of children or parents etc. I don’t think the Australian population radically supports reproductive choice. But I also don’t think in Australia the Catholic Church’s “we oppose contraception completely” stance plays well and publicity of it is in general bad for them.)

  11. Mary @10 – ”I don’t think the Australian population radically supports reproductive choice.”
    My own impression is the Australian population, en masse, doesn’t really think too hard about the notion. It hasn’t been raised here as an issue with regard to public policy. Most states don’t have legal abortion on demand as a readily available form of primary birth control (and never have had), but do have medically legal abortion available as a medical procedure on a GP’s recommendation, in order to preserve the health of the mother – where “health” includes things like mental health or social welfare as well as the more literal “not actually dying” side of things. Let’s face it, the nearest the Australian public as a body gets to declaring any kind of position on reproductive choice is when they start getting all thing-y about the Baby Bonus and various Parenting Payments in our welfare system (and even then, the majority opinion is that these are Good Things – we don’t seem to have the image of the “welfare queen” who keeps on popping out kids in order to continue sponging from the public purse in our public stock of pillory targets).
    I think it does help that the Australian polity is, by and large, supported by a much more effective welfare state than the US polity ever managed, and there’s a much more co-operative ethos here in general, as well as an acknowledgement that occasionally shit happens, even to the most virtuous of us.

  12. The problem, I think, with attacking the hospital directly is that it’s backed up by the Catholic church; a force that has proven damned near immovable when faced with even vicious public backlash. Instead, the idea of the Hippocratic Oath needs to be enshrined in law.
    Catholic “medicine” violates the Hippocratic Oath quite badly. Catholic hospitals that demand the practice of Catholic “medicine” — in place of, you know, actual medicine — would quickly find their position to be untenable. They’d have two options: abandon Catholic “medicine” in favour of actual medicine, or abandon Catholic “medicine” in favour of nothing. If the latter, the federal government is going to have to take up the brunt of running those hospitals until buyers could be found. If the church refuses to give up the buildings and/or equipment, I’m sure there’s the possibility of eminent domain being used.
    The problem, then, is “how do we get this enshrined in law?” A spot on 4 Corners seems to do the trick pretty fast…

  13. I like @Mary and @Meg Thornton’s ideas.
    In Canberra there is a (small) push to deal with similar issue within Calvary Hospital there. It has been suggested that the Govt buy it back, or (as suggested by some fellow radicals) even just re-claim it.
    The issues there have been varied, and my knowledge of them is a little old, but there were nurses giving false advice about contraception, shaming sexual assualt survivors, and refusing medical care (or adding shaming etc) for women who they believed to have had abortions (including women who had miscarriages).
    They also ether own or are trying to own the only hospice, which is a big problem as the ACT Govt continues to be mostly pro-euthanasia (and would likely have corresponding laws if the Fed Govt ever gets off their backs about it.)

  14. @Medivh, the problem with legislating adherence to the Hippocratic Oath is that originally it included restrictions on both euthanasia and inducing abortions, and also it hasn’t been universally sworn in Western medical schools for centuries now.
    If we want the code of practice for hospitals to be revised to remove the right to appeal to religious authority to refuse to perform certain therapeutic interventions in a general public hospital, then the revisions need to be based on modern ethical considerations without getting bogged down in an equally fallacious appeal to antiquity.

  15. Besides, the Hippocratic Oath (depending on which one you actually use; they’ve been modded a fair bit, esp. following WWII) isn’t entirely reliable. The whole point here is that what counts as harm differs between these conservative religious institutions and, well, lots of other people. Existing models of duty of care, partly because they’ve been around for so long, are probably more efficient at negotiating this stuff than introducing a new set of terms specifically designed for courts to undermine religious conceptions of harm. Though I would guess that part of the problem is that, as with most similar cases, you require legally-recognisable harm to have occurred before an examination of duty takes place? It’s been too long since I did tort law, but I suspect that unless someone brought a case with substantial proof of harm, a civil case wouldn’t be possible? So I guess I’m back to wondering what the regulatory frameworks on hospitals are…
    It reminds me, though, of the medical degree being taught at Notre Dame University in Sydney – there was an outcry because they were refusing to teach students about the termination of pregnancy. Can’t quite recall what happened about that – anyone remember? It is troubling, though, in that while there are doctors who are unhappy with the requirements of the institution in *this* case, it seems likely that as new med grads make their way through into the medical system, there will be doctors for whom contraception and termination have simply not been part of their education. Who, quite possibly, wouldn’t have the expertise to offer this information, even if they wanted to…

  16. I’m an atheist and personally outraged that a Catholic hospital can be the official hospital for an entire community regardless of religion (a similar situation applies in Brisbane, as the Mater is the maternity hospital for Brisbanites south of the river – so as I understand it, a Brisbane woman has quite different facilities for eg late-term life saving abortion depending on which side of the river she lives).
    But my Catholic friends are also negatively affected – they may choose contraception according to their own conscience, but a Catholic hospital, as shown in the Newcastle case, does not necessarily give patients all the information they need to make a decision, or allow patients access to the services they’d choose if fully informed.

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