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The Catholic medical practitioner, family planning, and the Church
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  1. William J LeMaire
  1. Professor Emeritus, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor William J LeMaire, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 5751 SW 45 Terrace, Miami, FL 33155, USA; awlemaire{at}hotmail.com

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Background

In daily practice, obstetricians and gynaecologists, family practitioners, midwives, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants frequently deal with family planning issues. They commonly advise, prescribe, inject, insert and operate with the aim of preventing or interrupting fertilisation and conception. However, Roman Catholic practitioners are constantly faced with the dilemma between doing the right thing for their patients and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (‘Church’ for the remainder of this discussion), which opposes any artificial means of family planning and also abortion.1 Abortion will not be discussed here, as that issue would raise the argument to a different level.

The official position of the Church has been and still is that Catholics are not allowed to use any so-called artificial methods to prevent pregnancy.1 The Church considers the practice of any means of artificial intervention to be a grave sin. Catholic medical practitioners are equally prohibited from prescribing or carrying out such interventions,1 even though they may realise that doing so might be in the best interest of their patients.

In a simplistic way, this dilemma leaves Catholic practitioners with only two possible options: adhering to the teachings of the Church or following their own consciences. Following one's individual conscience is what the Church teaches anyway.2

Adhering to the teaching of the Church

First, the medical practitioner may decide to abide by the teaching of the Church. However, in refusing to make available a wide range of contraceptive measures to their patients individuals will not be able to select what is perceived as being the most appropriate in their situation and make an informed choice. The practitioner will thereby be denying their patients a medical service that they may desperately need and want, and in fact may also be contributing indirectly to one of the world's most pressing problems, namely overpopulation.3 …

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