When our children are young, their doctors are our partners. They guide and aid us in ensuring our children are as healthy as possible.
Unfortunately, about the time our children hit adolescence and start to look at us with a jaded eye, their medical providers are doing the same thing. All too often, we are no longer seen as useful for the healthy development of our children. We are left outside the exam room, while the doctor or nurse practitioner or physician assistant offers our children a myriad of options and the assurances that “Mom and Dad will never know!”
I know, because I have been on both sides of that exam room door.
Mother Doesn’t Know Best?
Back in the day, I accepted what medical school taught me: Parents do not know what is best for their children, especially when it comes to their sexual health. As the doctor, only you know.
As the doctor, it is your job to take care of children in spite of their parents. Separate them from their parents so that you can get the real story and do not tell their parents any more than you have to. Make sure the children know that they can trust you, and make sure they know that they cannot trust their parents.
But then I became a mother. No one loves my children more than I do. I realized how utterly wrong it is to exclude parents from important intimate decisions about their child’s health.
As a doctor, I am prevented by law from discussing sexual and reproductive health issues with parents without their child’s consent. These adolescents are too young to vote, buy beer, buy cigarettes, get a tattoo, or even get their ears pierced without parental consent; yet they are considered mature enough to make decisions about using contraceptives, which have potentially dangerous—and sometimes lethal—consequences, without parental consultation.
Doctors Become Pushers
The policy statement on adolescent contraceptive use published in September 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) confirms that the medical establishment is no more receptive to parental involvement than it was thirty years ago, when I was in medical school. The AAP’s position is that health care providers who tend to children need to push contraception, and they need to exclude parents when they do it. The statement spends a great deal of time making it clear: the pediatrician is justified by state and federal laws in offering a whole range of contraceptive options to teenagers without parental consent.
The bottom line is that the AAP wants your adolescent daughter using some kind of contraception. They state that talking about abstinence is futile. In other words, your daughter is not much more competent or self-disciplined than the family dog; the responsible thing to do is to make sure she is “fixed” during the long “heat” of adolescence.
Once parents are out of the way, the AAP urges all pediatricians to become competent in utilizing long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) for their patients. These include hormone-releasing IUD’s, as well as implantable hormone reservoirs. They also endorse long-acting injectable contraceptives, like Depo-Provera. And if you cannot convince the teen to try one of these methods, there is always the popular combined oral contraceptive, commonly known as “the pill.”
Of course the AAP makes these recommendations while completely ignoring the dangers of these powerful drugs. They make no mention of the growing body of evidence that strongly links oral contraceptive use to aggressive pre-menopausal breast cancer, increasing its incidence by as much as 400 percent. The younger a woman is when she begins using hormonal contraception, the greater her increased risk for breast cancer.
The AAP fails to consider that the injectable progestin-only contraceptives, like Depo-Provera, have been found to double the transmission rate of HIV. They say not a word about the increased risks of blood clots and strokes, or that Bayer, the maker of the contraceptive Yaz, just settled a multimillion-dollar lawsuit because of these severe side effects.
Do Not Let Yourself Be Sidelined
So what is a parent to do?
The first thing you do is to refuse to be sidelined in this discussion. Be proactive; talk to your children early and often. We do not have “the talk” with our children. We have lots of small discussions to educate and shape their understanding of healthy and holy sexuality.
Be alert to the teachable moments. It may be when discussing the situation of a classmate; or it may be after seeing a movie or television show. Talk about the decisions others make, and the consequences that follow.
Let your daughters know they are so much more than sexual beings. They have a whole host of voices telling them to “think with their lady parts.” You need to encourage their intellectual, creative, and athletic pursuits of excellence. Those “lady parts” are just a fraction of a wondrous whole person.
When it comes time for a doctor visit, whether it is for a sports physical, or a checkup for a medical problem, prepare both yourself and your daughter for the private interview. It will happen, because healthcare providers are considered negligent if they do not adhere to this standard of practice.
Behind Closed Doors
Having spoken with both mothers and daughters, I am still amazed at the agenda-driven questioning that goes on behind closed doors. For example, a fourteen-year-old girl was asked if she had a boyfriend. When she said she did not, the doctor apologized for assuming a girl would have a boyfriend and asked if she had a girlfriend instead. Another girl was chastised for wearing a sports bra instead of a push-up bra to enhance her small breasts.
In these closed-door sessions, young girls are routinely offered contraception with the assurance that their parents will be told nothing about it. If the girls decline contraception, they are offered prescriptions to keep on hand just in case they change their minds.
I tell my own daughter that the doctor does not know her, does not know me, and does not know anything about our relationship, our family, or our values. Because of this, the doctor may discuss or suggest things that are contrary to our principles.
I also assure my daughter that this private talk with the doctor is entirely optional, and that she is free to end it at any time if she feels uncomfortable. Let your daughter know that you will always love her and she can talk to you about anything without jeopardizing that love.
You Are Not Your Child’s Enemy
It would be nice if we could always find a doctor that at least respects our family values and does not seek to undermine them. They are out there. I meet many such physicians through the Catholic Medical Association (www.cathmed.org) or the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (www.aaplog.org).
However, as the AAP statement demonstrates that the mainstream professional medical associations have embraced the contraceptive culture, and have no respect for the role of parents in the development of a healthy approach to sexuality. With health insurance plans increasingly limiting your choice of physicians, it is becoming more difficult to shop around for a physician who will work with you instead of against you to keep your child physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
So be on guard. Do not be intimidated by white coats and medical degrees. No one knows your child the way you do, and no one loves your child the way you do.
Do not allow a medical provider to treat you like an impediment to your child’s health. You are not the enemy. You are the parent God chose for your child.
DR. DENISE J. HUNNEL’s vocation is being a wife, mother, and grandmother. Her occupation has wound its way through being a practicing family physician to studying Catholic health care ethics to writing and teaching about all things Catholic. She is a fellow with Human Life International and regularly contributes to the HLI Truth & Charity Forum. She also writes a monthly column for Zenit.org. She and her husband John have been married for thirty years and have lived all over the United States, courtesy of John's Air Force career. They are now settled in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and blessed with four children and three grandchildren. Reprinted with permission from Catholic Stand (www.CatholicStand.com).