SINGAPORE – About 18 Catholic doctors and medical students had a roundtable discussion with Father David Garcia, OP following a talk on the ethical dilemmas they face especially concerning abortion.
At the start of the discussion, Father Garcia highlighted two issues that a doctor should consider: How “free is the doctor to say no in the situation” and how direct is the doctor’s cooperation.
One of those who shared their experiences was Doctor Sally Ho, who sees patients at a polyclinic. She said that she would listen to a patient who is considering an abortion and suggest that the patient take some time to reconsider the decision while offering them phone numbers for pregnancy counselling services. For patients who have already made up their minds, she would refer them to fellow colleagues in the polyclinic for further management. By doing so, wondered Doctor Ho, how far did she go in ‘assisting’ the termination of a pregnancy.
Doctor Douglas Ong, an obstetrician, said that although he adopts a no-abortion policy at his clinic, he does not turn patients away when they call him up to enquire about abortion.
“Don’t be too confrontational. Get on the patient’s side, love them as a human being,” said Doctor Ong.
While many women may come with the expectation that the doctor will tell them about the evils of abortion, Doctor Ong said his practice is to instead try to understand the mother’s reasons and help to solve the problem, as abortion is often a kneejerk reaction.
Also, Doctor Ong tries to get the mother to understand that the life they are carrying is not “just a bag of cells”, by advising she do a 3D/4D ultrasound.
This approach helps some to reverse their abortion decision, said Doctor Ong. But for those who still choose to continue with the termination of the pregnancy, Doctor Ong said he would gently remind the patient that he does not perform abortions. His approach has actually led some patients to return to his clinic when they are pregnant again.
Father Garcia said that doctors should not only be ethical, but should also build a more personal relationship with the patient, rather than a professional-to-client relationship. Caring for the patient is crucial even when they make a decision that one does not agree with.
Empathy and understanding the woman’s difficult position is important, said Father Garcia, adding that when he counsels mothers or couples, reiterating the Church’s stand against abortion does not help much.
In some cases, people have retorted that they felt Father Garcia could not understand how they felt as he had never been in their position. In response, Father Garcia would say: “I don’t know what I’ll do if I were in your place… I just wish you would make a good choice and be proud 40 years from now.” n