Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Expect to be Offended

My wife subscribes to the local Catholic homeschooler email list, and although I don't usually dip into the innumerable messages that pour in (most of them more lifestyle and education focused, so far as I can tell) I occasionally read a thread that catches my eye.

This week there's been much discussion of an Envoy magazine article about how a mother took her twelve-year-old in for a check up and was shocked and angered when the doctor asked if he could speak to the girl privately for a few minutes, and during the course of that asked the girl if she was sexually active and if she needed a prescription for birth control. The moms on the list exchanged similar stories, and were indignant not only that birth control was offered but that their teenagers were routinely asked if they did drugs, had sex, etc. Why, everyone wanted to know, would any reasonable doctor ask to speak to a teenager alone about these topics? Surely a mother should always know everything there is to know about these topics.

Needless to say, I'm not crazy about the idea of my three daughters being offered birth control and quizzed about their experiences when they become teenagers. But at the same time, I think the outrage is overblown. As Catholics we often talk about how we are counter-cultural. And we are. But when you're counter cultural, you can hardly be surprised when the fact that you do not fit in the mainstream culture is often thrown into relief. It ill befits us, I think, to act like the Muslim parents whose stories are gleefully fun by a certain stripe of website when they sue over pictures of Piglet (Pigs are dirty! How could you offend my child by showing one?) or dogs.

I recall fielding these questions myself as a youth. I too a certain amusement in the doctor coming in with her multi-page questionnaire and long explanation of how all this would remain confidential, only to have her ask. "Are you sexually active?" "No." (flips two pages.) "Have you experimented with illegal drugs?" "No." (flips two more pages.) "Smoked?" "No." "Alcohol?" "Only wine with my parents." "Well, that was quick. Do you have any questions you want to ask me or should we invite your mother back in?"

It's indeed a sad commentary that starting to ask kids if they're using drugs and having sex at age 12-13 is reasonable, but given a culture in which the majority of kids have had sex with multiple partners by age 17, and many kids experiment with drugs and alcohol in their mid teens, it's hardly surprising.

Perhaps I'm overly idealistic, but I don't think many children who are otherwise well brought up in the faith will be corrupted and fall from grace as a result of a few embarrassing questions from a doctor. Though it does certainly serve as a reminder of something that our children will be well aware of anyway -- that they live in a different world from that of many of their peers. And for many children in the wider culture, whose parents do not know half of what their children are doing, a few words from a doctor about the risks involved in their actions may be all to the good.

One hopes that some day our culture will come to its senses enough that it will no longer seem reasonable to discuss these topics with boys and girls in their young teens, but in the mean time we can hardly congratulate ourselves on being counter-cultural without feeling the strong current of the culture flowing against us.


Jenny said...

I remember those questions too. And I wondered what purpose they served because kids doing all those things will lie to the doctor. If they don't want to be found out, they answer no to all the questions. I suppose if they do want to be found out, it is an opportunity to come clean.

bearing said...

I agree that, in our culture, it makes sense for doctors to behave this way.

Now: Are we justified in insisting that we remain with our child? Are we justified in making it clear to any doctor that if s/he prescribes any drug to our children, including birth control, without our permission, the doctor does it against our will?

Darwin said...

Oh, goodness, yes.

I certainly don't advocate that doctors be left to do whatever they see fit with our children unconsulted. It's just that I don't see any point in getting upset when they run through their usual questions.

Elizabeth M said...

I remember being in the student health office as a freshman at a CATHOLIC college. I was there in abdominal pain and was asked if I could be pregnant. The nurse must have asked a number of times and assured me that they would not tell my parents. Was it that hard to believe my answer that I was a virgin?
My oldest (a son) is only 10 and we haven't run into this yet. But in an ER visit (for dehydration due to vomiting) they did ask their screening questions including "do you feel safe at home?" I'm sure the sex and drug questions will come later.
We've been clear with our kids that we do not live our lives the way others do. This is just another example.
[How really strange given the discussion that the word verification I see right now is "imate" -- which I can't but see as "I mate"!]

Steve said...

Surely asking these questions is not a problem. The problem is pushing contraception.

I'm currently serving as the development director for a new Catholic Clinic in Madison, WI. And when I say Catholic, I mean Catholic. Parents love it because they don't have to worry about doctors pushing contraception on their tweens and teens.

Check it out:

E.D. Kain said...

It's quite the balancing act, to be sure. One has to understand that many of these healthcare providers have seen some horrible things, horrible abuse etc. So they truly (I hope) are looking out for kids. Then, too, I think there has arisen a culture of lawsuits, and if doctors don't ask their prescribed questions, don't go through the ropes that are assigned to them, they run a higher risk of being sued if something slips by them.

But it is tricky to know where we draw the line between privacy and our own watchfulness over our children, and the need for others to be watchful of them as well. I suppose if we're open and honest with our children, what harm will this do them?

Anonymous said...

We need to also look at the other side of the coin: if I was a doctor, I would absolutely insist on asking teenage patients those questions without the parents present. Taking care of the patient pretty much requires that in many cases.