A Doctor's Dilemma

My Patients, My Conscience & My Faith

I was in my office one morning last April completing a pelvic exam on a sexually active sixteen-year-old girl. I’m a family doctor in a busy private practice. As a Catholic, I have many concerns about teenagers who are sexually active, but I generally don’t ponder them during a hectic morning in the office. That April day, though, was different. As I cared for this girl, who came with her mother to discuss contraception, I wrestled with the question of how my experience as a family doctor made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to comply with the church’s teaching on contraception.

The conclave that would elect Pope Benedict XVI was in session that day, and thoughts about the current state of the church—my church—weighed heavily on my mind. I considered it ironic, perhaps a work of the Spirit, that I was faced with a clinical problem that so poignantly distilled the essence of many of the moral issues facing Catholics, especially the struggle between church authority and individual conscience. I had attended Mass earlier that morning, and remembered the day’s Gospel: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). I also remembered my pastor’s homily. He had suggested that sometimes we are called not to be the sheep, but to be the shepherd. As I recalled his words, I decided that the thirty remaining...

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About the Author

Lynn-Beth Satterly, MD, is in private practice with her husband, Clyde, and teaches clinical medicine at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.