Has a doctor a right to run his practice along fully Catholic lines? Is belief in traditional marriage now deemed problematic in the eyes of the law? Is it problematic in the eyes of society? To judge from the case of Dr Phil Boyle, the answer to the first question is ‘no’, and to questions two and three it is ‘yes’.
Dr Boyle runs a fertility treatment service along Catholic lines at Galway clinic, which is a Catholic hospital. He was summoned before the Fitness to Practice Committee of the Medical Council last week. His offence? He would not accept a cohabiting couple for treatment because of his belief in traditional marriage.
He was acquitted on a technicality because the couples never became his patients. The ethical guidelines of the Council only prohibit doctors from refusing treatment to a patient. In addition, he wasn’t given the chance to refer them to another doctor even if he had wanted to.
But his right to run his practice along fully Catholic lines, and therefore to treat only married couples as a matter of conscientious religious belief does not appear to have been recognised.
Indeed, the mere fact that Dr Boyle’s case was heard at all indicates that the Council finds his belief to be problematic if not offensive.
Dr Boyle could now face action under the Equal Status Act which forbids ‘discrimination’ on the basis of marital status.
Consider what is happening here. Until yesterday believing in traditional marriage and believing that it is the best place for children was merely common sense. But now, suddenly, to uphold this belief is deemed a form of ‘discrimination’ under certain circumstances, a sub-species of bigotry.
Essentially marriage and traditional sexual morality more generally, is being pitted against equality and in the legal and public relations battle between the two, marriage is increasingly on the losing side. Phil Boyle inadvertently finds himself in the middle of that battle.
But in this battle between these two principles we have to consider the evidence and all the evidence suggests we have to favour marriage.
For example, what is surely most relevant to this particular case is the fact that cohabiting parents (according to the British Millennium Cohort Study) break up twice as often as married parents. Therefore if you view this issue from the point of view of the child instead of the adult, then it not simply a form of prejudice to favour marriage, it is rational to do so.
In fact, it is a form of anti-marriage prejudice not to do so. What Phil Boyle is being asked to do is to violate his own conscience, undermine marriage, and ill-serve the child. It is simply appalling that he is under this kind of pressure and that his ordeal may not yet be over.