Infertility treatment refusal led to inquiry

 

A DOCTOR has been brought before the Medical Council’s fitness to practise committee and accused of professional misconduct after declining, on religious grounds, to provide infertility treatment to a couple who were not married.

Dr Phil Boyle, who runs a fertility treatment practice in the Galway clinic, which has a Catholic ethos, declined to treat the couple due to his belief that only married people should have children.

His case came before a fitness to practise committee inquiry last week. While many doctors’ fitness to practise cases are now held in public, his case was heard in private. Cases may be heard in private if a patient who complains about a doctor applies for the inquiry to be in private, and if the inquiry team then accedes to this request.

Details of the case are reported in today’s issue of The Irish Catholicnewspaper.

Dr Boyle, who could not be contacted yesterday, was ultimately found not guilty of professional misconduct.

He was accused of refusing to treat a patient and of not referring the patient to another doctor. However, the committee accepted the couple had not become his patients, and that he was not given a chance to refer them to another doctor even if he had wanted to.

Dr Boyle offers a fertility treatment called NaPro Technology, which is fully compatible with the Catholic Church’s teaching on assisted human reproduction.

The Iona Institute, which promotes the place of marriage and religion in society, condemned the Medical Council’s treatment of the doctor.

It said Dr Boyle’s right to practise his profession in accordance with his conscience has not been recognised, and is not recognised in the Medical Council’s ethical guidelines.

Dr John Murray of the Iona Institute said: “We deplore the treatment of Dr Boyle by the Medical Council. He should never have been called before its fitness to practise committee. The fact that it heard a professional misconduct charge against him is simply grotesque.”

He added that Dr Boyle practises his profession in accordance with his Catholic convictions, and therefore he only offers his fertility treatment service to married couples. “The Medical Council must recognise his right to follow his conscience in this regard.

“By accepting this case, the council is saying, in effect, that physicians with long accepted religious beliefs are no longer fully welcome in the Irish medical profession. This represents a direct attack on freedom of religion and conscience.”

He added: “We believe there should be an immediate change to the ethical guidelines of the Medical Council to properly protect the right of conscientious objection, which is one of the most fundamental freedoms of any civilised society.”

The couple who complained to the Medical Council could now take their case to the Equality Authority on the grounds that Dr Boyle is in breach of the Equal Status Act, which outlaws discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of marital status. If he were found guilty and fined, the case could potentially find its way to the Supreme Court, where the constitutionality of the Equal Status Act may be tested.

The legislation currently makes no provision for freedom of religion and conscience, both of which are recognised as rights by Article 44 of the Constitution.