Monday, 21 October 2013

Whose conscience is it anyway?

I was browsing my September issue of Regula+e, published by the General Pharmaceutical Council, which is the regulatory body for pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, when I came across this article about a pharmacist who had had conditions placed on his practice, by the Fitness to Practise (FtP) committee, for 'imposing his beliefs on patients' (pp24-25).

The pharmacist, during the course of supplying the morning after pill (EHC), told a patient that it was "a chemical abortion, was ending a life, and that this would be on her conscience". The patient was shocked and felt "rotten and horrible". He did not give her the option to go to another pharmacy.

Recently I blogged, among other things, about the weirdness of the fact that while pharmacists do not have to supply EHC, they do have to tell the patient where they can obtain it. This pharmacist didn't tell his patient where they could get EHC, because he did not decline the supply. Yes, apparently he was in the habit of giving what the FtP committee deem 'an embarrassing and distressing lecture' and then giving the patient the morning after pill anyway.
There seems to be a whole lot of weird stuff going on here. The FtP committee, for their part, merely have to judge whether a pharmacist has breached the code of ethics and, if so, whether conditions should be imposed or the individual removed from the register, so I'm going to ignore them. It's the behaviour of the pharmacist in question which puzzles me. If it was for moral or religious reasons that the pharmacist gave these speeches to his patients, why did he then supply EHC? What was he hoping to achieve? Was he trying to absolutely prevent evil (ie the patient does not terminate her pregnancy) or just avoid co-operating (the patient gets upset and goes to another pharmacy instead). But if the latter, why did he then supply? It is a mystery to me (although I recogise that I don't have all of the information about the case). And then there is the patient, who reported the pharmacist because he made her feel "rotten and horrible". I'm not saying the pharmacist shouldn't have been investigated, as his actions come across as a bit odd, to say the least: was this his usual manner of advising patients? But as taking the morning after pill causes side effects of headache, nausea, abdominal pain, bleeding and fatigue (very commonly), and dizziness, diarrhoea and vomiting (commonly), the 'rotten and horrible' feeling was somewhat inevitable, if only on a physical level.
Whether you, healthcare professional, go with a straight refusal to supply or a slightly more in depth explanation as to why not, or an attempt to engage the patient in discussion as to the rights or wrongs of EHC (or whatever other substance), do so with charity and professionalism! Haranguing the inidividual is unlikely to achieve anything, and following the harangue with supply even less.
Interestingly, one of the conditions imposed is that the pharmacist is not to supply EHC in the future. Sounds like good news all round.
PS My viewing stats passed the 10,000 mark this week. The list of referring sites may suggest to me that a lot of these views are not real people, but to those actual people who are reading: thank you :-)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Is grief a mental illness (and has anyone even said so)?

The American Psychiatric Association have published their new diagnostic guide (DSM 5) and according to quite a lot of people (just google it) they have classed grief as a type of depression. As far as I can tell (without actually buying a copy) this isn't actually true. What has happened is that they have removed the so-called 'bereavement exclusion' which said that major depressive disorder (aka depression) should not be diagnosed following a significant bereavement. They have also listed something called 'Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder' as requiring further study.
Why does it make sense to remove this bereavement exclusion clause? Well, suppose you had got depression already and then a loved one died and you then sought medical help for your depression. You might not be able to get the treatment you needed because DSM-IV said you shouldn't be diagnosed with it and therefore your insurance company would not pay for your treatment. Maybe you didn't have depression before this event. Maybe you just had a tendency, or a past episode, or were just starting mild depression. Given that the causes of depression are not well understood, maybe you didn't have depression at all. The result would be the same. No DSM number, no drugs. As there don't seem to have been any other exclusions (such as job loss, divorce, or other severe stress) it makes sense (to me, at least) to remove this exclusion which might be preventing people who really need help from getting that help.
On the other hand, as there does seem to be a trend for doctors to overprescribe anti-depressants anyway, it does mean that there is now further potential to misdiagnose depressive disorders. Furthermore, evidence shows that many doctors end up prescribing as a way of ending consultations. Also, as all of this is taking place in the USA where prescription medicines can be advertised to the public (not allowed in the UK), there is a possibility that drug companies could target the recently bereaved, who will then go to their doctors demanding anti-depressants which they will be prescribed and which will not help them because they do not have depression, they are grieving. Due to the stigma attached to mental illness it might also mean that some people don't seek the support (by which I don't mean treatment) they need in their grief because they're afraid of the potential diagnosis. All of which begs the question: when did it stop being OK to be sad?
Or perhaps we are sadder than we used to be. With the loss of God from our culture, we have also lost the resurrection and life after death. Funerals are now termed 'celebrations of life' and even mentioning the deceased can be something of a taboo. Deciding whether to tell a friend or acquaintance that you are praying for them and their loved one presents itself as a dilemma (even if praying for them is the first thing you would do).  A friend of mine told me recently that after agonising for some time, she decided to offer her condolences (and prayers) to a colleague whose father had died, with the awkwardness of trying to broach the subject with someone she didn't know that well compounded by the fact that everyone else in the department would fall silent as soon as he came into the room. Some time afterwards, he told her that she was the only person at work who had said anything at all to him.
We no longer seem to know that it's OK to be sad. It is wrong, and therefore pathological, an illness. And in a way, there is something 'wrong' in that sadness wasn't part of the original plan: sadness and grief, like death, are a consequence of moral and physical evil. We have no idea how to talk about death. We worry about exacerbating grief, making someone sadder, or causing offence or embarrassment (as if brief embarrassment on either side could really be worse than the death of a loved one?!). So here it is (for what it's worth), my opinion about being sad: it's OK to be sad. And this may be the key to telling the difference between grief and depression. Grief is not an illness, it is part of life, just as death is.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Wombs to let: £28,000

I suppose a baby factory is the obvious successor to the egg bank, but it wasn't something I was expecting to come across in last week's Metro.
The most ridiculous aspect (and now I've said that I am torn as to which bit is actually the most ridiculous) of this article is Dr Patel's claim that she is carrying out a feminist mission. As the Anscombe Bioethics Centre wrote in their review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act:
Surrogate motherhood involves a further fragmentation and trivialisation of parenthood, in that a woman deliberately becomes a gestational mother with no intention of committing herself to caring for the child she gestates. This practice is exploitative of both the woman and the child, and damages the way conception and gestation are regarded in society as a whole. If surrogacy cannot be prohibited altogether (the option we would prefer), commercial surrogacy, at very least, should continue to be prohibited. We do not believe that agencies should be registered with the Department of Health, as the Brazier Committee recommends, as this would constitute official endorsement of such agencies. (An analogy might be with the case of prostitution: those opposed to prostitution are rightly unwilling to accept the official registering of brothels, as this effectively legitimises their existence.)
Dr Patel is clearly exploiting women; of the £28,000 a couple pay for a surrogate mother, the surrogate receives less than £5,000. For 9 months manual labour (a 'physical job') the mother earns approximately 73p an hour (based on a 40 week pregnancy). And paying a woman for the use of her body is definitely analagous to prostitution. But hey, at least facilities are sterile!
And then we have the desperate couples who choose this option and are willing and able to pay. Are they not also being exploited to a certain extent (albeit in a design of their own making)? This is not a good way to have a family: I know of one woman who regularly tells people how much her IVF twins cost her, apparently believing that their grades should be better than those of other children because they cost more. As they get older, will she dictate to them on the basis that she paid for them? Isn't that a form of slavery? As always it is the child who loses: exploited by both genetic and surrogate parents.
We are now way beyond the start of the slippery slope: there are those who are 'too posh to push', those who choose the gender or disability status of their children. It would not surprise me if there were also designer pregnancies, where the pregnancy happens to another person, whether a woman is fertile or not. Is this the new feminist ideal: the exploitation of one woman to spare another some nine months of inconvenience? Even organs are not commodities to be traded, selected, bought, sold or even rented, so why do we seem to think that children are?