This House believes that doctors should be allowed to prescribe contraception for under-age girls

Teenage pregnancy rates are on the rise, and contraceptives are often hailed as the underlying cause. However, few people agree on why contraceptives might be causing an increase in pregnancy rates. Some believe that a lack of contraceptives has led to more unprotected sex among young girls who choose to take that risk[1]; others claim that the availability of contraceptives encourages young girls to underestimate the emotional and physical impact of having sex at a young age[2]. It is very difficult to reach an absolute conclusion either way because of the difficulties of gathering data about whether underage girls have engaged in sexual activity. They may refuse to tell, or falsely say that they have been sexually active as a result of peer pressure to have sex[3].

            A high teenage pregnancy rate damages to the girls’ career or life prospects, and for society it often creates a financial and social burden to support the children and young mothers[4]. While doctors are bound by the principles of medical ethics to aid their patients as far as possible[5], providing contraceptives to under-age girls can be seen as undermining the purpose of the law against under-age intercourse because it provides a ‘safe’ way for them to break that law. It can also put doctors in an uncomfortable position if they feel that the girl will have intercourse without contraception if they refuse to prescribe it, at which point they may feel that they are failing to help the patient to avoid physical and mental health issues which could potentially result from unprotected sex.

            The mechanism for this debate is that doctors should be able to prescribe contraception to young girls, even if they have not yet reached the legal age of consent, as long as they satisfy certain conditions already laid out by medical authorities such as the British Medical Association. In this case, under the rules for informed consent, the patient must be ‘aware of’ and have ‘genuinely understood the hazards and benefits of various methods of contraception.’[6]  Doctors must also ‘make sure that patients are able to use the chosen method properly and can recognise and cope with side effects.’[7] This mechanism does not impose an absolute limit to contraceptive prescriptions based on age, but rather assesses each patient as an individual to ascertain whether that personally are ready for a sexual relationship. This upholds medical ethics in that the doctor’s concern should be ‘the welfare of the patient concerned’[8] – basing individual prescriptions on individual need – rather than imposing a uniform age restriction.

[1] Accessed from http://reproductiverights.org/en/document/parental-consent-and-notice-for-contraceptives-threatens-teen-health-and-constitutional-rig on 16/09/11

[2] The Telegraph. ‘Sex education failing to halt teen pregnancy.’ Published 30/12/2007. Accessed from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1574043/Sex-education-failing-to-halt-teen-pregnancy.html on 16/09/11.

[5] BBC. ‘Medical Ethics and Contraception.’ Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/contraception/ethics_contraception_1.shtml on 16/09/11.

[6] BBC. ‘Medical Ethics and Contraception’. Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/contraception/ethics_contraception_1.shtml on 16/09/11.

[7] BBC. ‘Medical Ethics and Contraception’. Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/contraception/ethics_contraception_1.shtml on 16/09/11

[8] BBC. ‘Medical Ethics and Contraception’. Accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/contraception/ethics_contraception_1.shtml on 16/09/11.

 

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