The development of effective oral contraceptives and their distribution through the medical profession have involved the physician in the complexities of sexual ethics. For Protestants, the greatest tension is likely to be over whether contraceptives should be prescribed for the unmarried girl. The physician may come to this question with one of several perspectives: (1) neutrality; (2) reluctant sanction; (3) broad permissiveness; (4) the historic Christian position.

Neutrality. The physician who assumes a neutral position denies that any ethical choice is involved in his prescribing contraceptives for single girls. He may say the decision belongs entirely to the person who makes the request. But the idea that the physician can remain neutral is illusory. In every moment of the physician-patient relationship there is communication, verbal or non-verbal, that is bound to disclose the physician’s own philosophy of life and ethical stance. If his response serves, however subtly, to favor the patient’s decision to use contraceptives, his claim of neutrality is invalidated.

To comply with an unmarried girl’s request for contraceptives is not simply to transfer the ethical decision to her; it is to take part in the decision. Considerable professional authority is bound up in the role of a doctor. Every prescription he gives is considered to reflect what he feels is best for the patient, and the patient’s acceptance of a prescription implies confidence in the doctor’s ability to make a wise choice. The doctor is paid to make choices for his patients, and he cannot avoid responsibility for the course he recommends.

Reluctant sanction. A physician who is against premarital sex may feel that it is futile ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: