Dear Dr. Barry,
As a woman, a Canadian, a recently graduated physician, a mother of two young children (both of whom I gave birth to and raised while in medical school), and a future ob-gyn, I am quite appalled by the choices you have made regarding your patient care. Of course, we are all entitled to our personal beliefs and opinions. However, it is unacceptable and unprofessional to let these opinions and beliefs completely obscure your roles and responsibilities as a physician.
So, you refuse to prescribe birth control pills to any woman who walks through the doors of your clinic? You discourage women and girls from seeking medical attention when you are on duty because you have a fundamental belief that using birth control is wrong? Approximately 90% of young women in Canada use some form of birth control method – so you automatically alienate almost all of the young women who come to seek any kind of medical attention from you because they probably think you are judging them for using some form of contraception? And, you can still go home at the end of the day and feel like you did your job to the best of your abilities?
It seems that you want everyone to respect your right to have your personal beliefs about reproduction. But what about every other person’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive health? In every aspect of medical practice, we put the needs of our patients ahead of our own. This case shouldn’t be any different. Providing a prescription for birth control pills is not about promoting premarital sex, or encouraging unsafe sexual practices, or even preventing a pregnancy that is a “gift from God.” Contraception is about women (and men) making a choice for themselves: It is about empowering people to take control over their own lives and giving them the flexibility and freedom to do what is right and appropriate for them at any given time in their lives. What gives you the right to prioritize your personal beliefs above the needs of your patient?
Since you don’t believe in birth control pills, I have a sneaking suspicion that you also don’t believe in abortion. Isn’t it interesting that the rate of contraceptive use and the rate of abortion are inversely proportional? Maybe you don’t believe in children out of wedlock, either. Do you support teenage pregnancy? How do you deal with any or all of these “problems” when they are presented to you in your clinic? What about other “contentious” concerns that one of your patients might have? What else are you not willing to do for your patients?
As a woman, don’t you feel the need to advocate for other women? It seems like you had great support in your life and in your career and you CHOSE to have children (using whatever method worked for you) when it worked for you. Whether your children were planned or not, that was a choice you made. As a woman who also CHOSE to have my children in medical school, I was slightly offended by your reference to the extreme difficulties and hardships you faced because of this choice. I lived those same hardships myself – I pumped milk for 25 months of my time in medical school. I leaked milk all over my scrubs on more than one occasion. I missed rounds and missed kids bedtimes, and got criticized by preceptors for not seeming as “into” my clinical work because I was “in a rush” to get home to my kids. I was there – and I didn’t even take a year off like you did. It was hard work, and I made it through, and for me it was worth it – but that doesn’t mean that is worth it for everyone. It also doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone.
You said you relied heavily on your husband for support – what about those women who don’t have a husband to rely on? You said you had community support and college support in difficult times – well, not everyone has support. Not everyone is ready and willing to welcome children into their lives and that is their choice. How would you feel if the people you trusted and relied on didn’t support the the choices you made? I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how your patients feel when they walk into your clinic and you don’t even give them a chance to ask for your support. Think about what you are doing to your patients…
You are a physician. You took an oath. You have a responsibility to this profession, to your colleagues, and most importantly, to your patients. When people can’t trust their doctors to help them when they are in need, where does that leave us?
I sincerely hope that this recent media storm has caused you to re-evaluate how you practice medicine. You should get off of your little anti-birth control pedestal and start practicing medicine the way it should be practiced: In a non-judgemental, evidenced based, collaborative fashion that results in the best care for your patient.