Many nominal Catholics have abortions and informed opinion is that euthanasia legislation may be introduced soon, a London doctor told the International Federation of Catholic doctors.
The address of the M aster of the Guild of Catholic Doctors, Dr T. 'P. Linehan, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, to the recent international meeting in Barcelona, is reported this week in the guild's journal. Catholic Medical Quarterly.
He said a report published this year by two researchers, Hamill and Ingram, showed that "in Glasgow, where the Roman Catholic population is 30 per cent of the total number of inhahitants, 25 per cent of patients referred for abortions were nominally Roman Catholics . . ."
On euthanasia he said: formed Catholic opinion in Great Britain is convinced that legislation to permit euthanasia could be introduced in the next decade."
While few could argue that the vast majority of doctors were currently opposed to euthanasia, he thought the fact that significantly more doctors were shown by opinion polls to favour the Abortion Act after it was passed might be relevant here.
In a well-researched paper on the dilemma of a Catholic doctor in a plural society, where the doctor has -a contract with the state to provide general medical services, Dr. Linehan reviewed the moral problems that could arise.
He said that under this contract, the General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services' Regulations. 1972, operative from January 1973, "clearly sets out an obligation for the physician to provide medical advice to those patients seeking an abortion on grounds as laid down by the Abortion Act."
If the recommendations of the Lane Committee on the Abortion Act are fully adopted. he thought there would be "a very definite obligation on hospital specialists to provide abortion services."
Dr Linehan outlined the dilemma facing the Catholic doctor in availing in the conscience clause in the Abortion Act. Passing on the patient to another doctor on these grounds may be understandably resented by the other and seen as a shirking of responsibility he said.
DrLinehan said: "Very often, too, the physician has had a long association with the family and they arc seeking his advice at a time of great personal stress. To reject their problem completely could be construed as bad clinical medicine. An alternative to this is to state one's conscientious objection and to refer the patient to a gynaecologist. stating one's
He continued: "There is the added difficulty that the Catholic physician may feel that from a strictly medical point of view there are sufficient social or medical grounds for an abortion. His problem here is 1.1, healer he should state that he agrees that these grounds are present, but that because of his religion he is unable to make the legal recommendation."
Dr Linehan said that in his opinion the Abortion Act was a bad one "positively encouraging abortion." He said it was a fact that "the definition of social reasons is so widely open that any abortion can be performed virtually on request."
He quoted three pieces of research that showed where an abortion was first refused, more than 910 per cent of those refused "succeeded eventually in obtaining abortions elswhere"
"The Abortion Act creates a new problem for the young Catholic gynaecologist because he is not appointed to specialist posts in the regions where there are non-Catholic gynaecologists prepared to do abortions. There would appear to be a limited future for young Catholic gynaecologists in the United Kingdom," he said.
Difficulties also arise for Catholic doctors in the field of psycho-social counselling, he said. "Should a Catholic doctor refuse to counsel a patient over divorce when he knows that a marriage has totally failed in a couple who have no Christian beliefs whatsoever? Should he refuse to counsel a patient over male sterilisation when he has known that patient's social and psychological background for years?"
Dr. Linehan said that no solution to such dilemmas should be attempted without a clear understanding of the Church's present teaching on the question of conscience. "One hopes that the Catholic doctor no longer has a static and complacent conscience where the Church must spell out every detail on each moral medical problem — such an attitude could be considered a denial of responsibility.
"But one would not condone a doctor who totally rejected the need to accept any guidance from the Church. This would surely be a denial of basic Catholic practice. One should strive to have the ideal conscience, as outlined by the Canadian bishops," he said.
This, he concluded, "should he a dynamic, Christian one, responsible to the community, to society and to Jesus progressive and striving to live out life according to the mind of Christ."
Catholic Medical Quarterly 50p, post free from Dr D. Conway, The Pantiles, Church Street, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Notts.