A pro-life charity might be forced to close its fertility care services if new guidelines on belief and medical practice are ratified, it emerged this week.
The General Medical Council’s (GMC) draft guidelines suggest that doctors should not be allowed to discriminate between unmarried and married couples in the provision of services, including contraception and fertility treatment.
But the Life Fertility Care Centre, which helps women who are struggling to conceive, said that offering its fertility services exclusively to married couples was “non-negotiable”.
The consultation on the guidelines ends today, Thursday June 14. Earlier this week Life said: “It is likely that if guidelines were to be published in their current form, then, yes, we may be forced to stop offering Natural Procreative Technology (Napro).
“The limitation to married couples is non-negotiable, so if GMC guidelines formally prohibit that practice it would make life very difficult for any doctor who wants to continue with Napro (and not just in Life Fertility Care).
“The threat of disciplinary or legal action would act as a severe chilling effect on the whole service, with the main losers being our patients.”
A spokesman for the General Medical Council said: “It may depend on the specific circumstances, but refusing to provide services on grounds of lifestyle or marital status alone would be contravening our guidance.”
The charity Life was first established to support women through crisis pregnancies following the legalisation of abortion. Its website says the inspiration behind its fertility clinic is Catholic.
Dr David Albert Jones of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre said the GMC guidelines in their current form failed to sufficiently recognise conscience in medicine.
He said: “The draft guidance is also inaccurate at some points in its account of the law, in that it claims that the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal not to offer a service to unmarried women which was offered to married women.
“It is sincerely to be hoped that this is corrected in the final version or it could result in a restricting of morally acceptable forms of fertility services that are currently offered to married couples. It is especially important in relation to fertility treatment that the doctor is permitted to consider the wellbeing of children who might be conceived by the process.”
Bonnie Lander, a Catholic who is a client of Life, said: “I can attest to the anguish which infertility causes for a significant portion of families in Britain. At present, we are given few options – often no options – by the NHS.
“The fertility care offered by Life is credible and long-term. It has a higher success rate than IVF, is more cost effective and carries far fewer risks. Forcing Life to close its fertility services would take away a vital service to the community.”
The final version of the guidance is due to be published in December.