Personal Opinions

An Open Letter To Chantal Barry

Dear Dr. Barry,

As a woman, a Canadian, a recently graduated physician, a mother of two young children (both of whom I gave birth to and raised while in medical school), and a future ob-gyn, I am quite appalled by the choices you have made regarding your patient care.  Of course, we are all entitled to our personal beliefs and opinions.  However, it is unacceptable and unprofessional to let these opinions and beliefs completely obscure your roles and responsibilities as a physician.

So, you refuse to prescribe birth control pills to any woman who walks through the doors of your clinic?  You discourage women and girls from seeking medical attention when you are on duty because you have a fundamental belief that using birth control is wrong? Approximately 90% of young women in Canada use some form of birth control method – so you automatically alienate almost all of the young women who come to seek any kind of medical attention from you because they probably think you are judging them for using some form of contraception?  And, you can still go home at the end of the day and feel like you did your job to the best of your abilities?

It seems that you want everyone to respect your right to have your personal beliefs about reproduction.  But what about every other person’s right to make their own choices about their reproductive health?  In every aspect of medical practice, we put the needs of our patients ahead of our own.  This case shouldn’t be any different.  Providing a prescription for birth control pills is not about promoting premarital sex, or encouraging  unsafe sexual practices, or even preventing a pregnancy that is a “gift from God.”  Contraception is about women (and men) making a choice for themselves: It is about empowering people to take control over their own lives and giving them the flexibility and freedom to do what is right and appropriate for them at any given time in their lives.  What gives you the right to prioritize your personal beliefs above the needs of your patient?

Since you don’t believe in birth control pills, I have a sneaking suspicion that you also don’t believe in abortion.  Isn’t it interesting that the rate of contraceptive use and the rate of abortion are inversely proportional?  Maybe you don’t believe in children out of wedlock, either.  Do you support teenage pregnancy? How do you deal with any or all of these “problems” when they are presented to you in your clinic?  What about other “contentious” concerns that one of your patients might have? What else are you not willing to do for your patients?

As a woman, don’t you feel the need to advocate for other women?  It seems like you had great support in your life and in your career and you CHOSE to have children (using whatever method worked for you) when it worked for you. Whether your children were planned or not, that was a choice you made.  As a woman who also CHOSE to have my children in medical school, I was slightly offended by your reference to the extreme difficulties and hardships you faced because of this choice.  I lived those same hardships myself – I pumped milk for 25 months of my time in medical school.  I leaked milk all over my scrubs on more than one occasion.  I missed rounds and missed kids bedtimes, and got criticized by preceptors for not seeming as “into” my clinical work because I was “in a rush” to get home to my kids.  I was there – and I didn’t even take a year off like you did.  It was hard work, and I made it through, and for me it was worth it – but that doesn’t mean that is worth it for everyone.  It also doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone.

You said you relied heavily on your husband for support – what about those women who don’t have a husband to rely on?  You said you had community support and college support in difficult times – well, not everyone has support.  Not everyone is ready and willing to welcome children into their lives and that is their choice.  How would you feel if the people you trusted and relied on didn’t support the the choices you made?  I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how your patients feel when they walk into your clinic and you don’t even give them a chance to ask for your support.  Think about what you are doing to your patients…

You are a physician.  You took an oath.  You have a responsibility to this profession, to your colleagues, and most importantly, to your patients.  When people can’t trust their doctors to help them when they are in need, where does that leave us?

I sincerely hope that this recent media storm has caused you to re-evaluate how you practice medicine.  You should get off of your little anti-birth control pedestal and start practicing medicine the way it should be practiced: In a non-judgemental, evidenced based, collaborative fashion that results in the best care for your patient.

Sincerely yours,

9 thoughts on “An Open Letter To Chantal Barry

  1. I’m a little lost here.. It’s not a private practice/hospital right? How does her boss allow this? And where to draw the line.. I mean the Bible and all the other religious books are packed with rules that conflict with being a physician..

    Like you’re already being judged without even entering the doctors office. I do hope she can find some middle ground for herself in this.


    1. Yes, it’s a little strange. I think it’s taking the whole “rights to your own beliefs” farther than it should go. I mean I can understand if you don’t want to perform abortion, but even then you’re expected to help the patient find the appropriate services. Providing contraception is a pretty large part of a family doctor’s practice.


  2. This disgusts me, and it flies in the face of what it means to be a physician. I wish there was some magic screening process to keep people like this from being accepted into medical school.


    1. I agree! I wish there was a way to get more of a dialogue going about it. I guess that was kind of my purpose in writing about it on my blog… Too bad more people didn’t ready my blog 😉


  3. It’s amazing to me that people think the whole world operates in a predictable way based on one’s own limited experiences. Have a little empathy! Geez! What a wonderful letter! Kudos to you for standing up for people’s rights to find their own way through life.


  4. Many patients respect and trust Dr. Barry as she abides by the oath ‘not to play God.

    It seems that you only like hearing from those who agree with you. A bit like an echo!


    1. Thanks for your opinion, but I’m not too sure what you are referring to: it appears that I have only received comment that have agreed with me. The oath is always up for interpretation. However, someone with such strong opinions and beliefs that are different from the mainstream should maybe work with a select group of patients who don’t rely on walk-in clinic services for their medical care.


  5. I’m referring to my comment yesterday that did display on here, with note ‘awaiting moderation’. Next day comment gone!

    Hopefully, she will be able to set up her own practice and help patients who appreciate her high morals. I.e. not having to worry about the hysterical fascism of those who would like to ‘force’ everyone to be mainstream. I guess that’s the ‘mainstream’ interpretation of equality, i.e. all forced to do/belief the same.


  6. hey cranky,
    i tend to kind of agree with both sides on this. In a free market where people are free to choose where they go, who they see, and how much they might pay…..then as a free market economist, I don’t have a problem with Chantal’s decision to choose not to provide a service. And at first blush there is a tendency to argue that since it is the public purse paying for health whose resources arrive from the tax base – that the woman seeking a renewal of her birth control prescription ought to be able to have that prescription filled at any clinic (which by the way the number of clinics allowed to operate I believe are regulated and are not market based) because she has a legitimate expectation after all – she is paying for the service through taxation ex ante. But here we have a doctor declining service ex post tax payment even though the Doctor herself has not been compensated one dime.

    Indeed much of this could be solved if after the first prescription the patient were able to refill prescriptions at a dispenser at your local drug store. Its asinine that an individual has to seek a doctor that amounts to nothing more than society’s tacit approval of contraception. So the medical profession itself could do a lot to clean up a lot of these contradictions. This, to me, is just as big an issue, and yet, this is what it really boils down to isn’t it. But the State, in all its wisdom will continue to decide what constitutes ethical behavior without having any real authority on this subject whatsoever.

    Morality and spiritual beliefs should not be playing a role here, but, are, because liberty itself is at the crux of all these curfuffles and contradictions. The doctor’s code of ethics, morality and so on surface because the elephant in the room is free will and the individual’s perceived right to choose. As a libertarian the right to choose (for both Chantal and patient), if it is truly a right, is an inalienable right – can’t be taken away. But we live in a system where rights are prescriptive and therefore are malleable and are not inalienable. We live in a legal positivist tradition which doesn’t do either morality or ethics any favors.

    And it is not inconceivable that there are many services turned down on the basis of moral or religious grounds and yet I, being a man of faith who exercises that faith everyday am not entirely clear if much of the religious hoo haa is not as much “religious” as it is institutional secularity. Chantal rejects providing contraception services based on spiritual and/or religious grounds, but i would argue such a reason is based on institutional measures and not necessarily on “the word”. And you could argue in a non-secular way and not be any further ahead, that Chantal’s refusal to provide contraception prescription services interferes with other’s ability to exercise their own free will – or, is it the patient’s free will seeking to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy interfering with Chantal’s moral and religious beliefs?

    In the end we ought to be able to ingest whatever we like into our bodies and we ought to be able to die with dignity where these issues and everything else in between, are decisions that the State ought to have nothing to do with. But, because the state pays for it, therein lies the problem. And to this end, will always be the problem.




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