A human face on abortion care
On the face of it, a book about an abortion gone wrong, a GMC fitness to practise procedure, and a near disaster experience for both patient and doctor doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for enjoyable reading. But there is nothing “on the face of it” about Gabriel Weston’s Dirty Work.
So often when abortion is discussed in medical education, the patient is squarely in the driving seat. It is the patient’s right to choose—the doctor must provide non-judgmental and non-directive advice, but ultimately the patient is in control. But what about the doctors—like the book’s protagonist Nancy—who perform them? Often the assumption is that these doctors agree with the practice—a fair assumption—and consequently experience no ethical conflict when opting to provide abortions. It is the latter assumption that is central to the book, which documents the unravelling of a doctor caught between her belief in, and the reality of, her work. Stifled in an environment where she is unable to speak openly about her practice, her inner conflict reaches boiling point, resulting in a catastrophic error which puts both her patient and career at deadly risk.
Weston’s book puts a human face on abortion care—Nancy is a three dimensional character with a personal life far beyond the scope of the book. It also serves as a useful reminder that doctors are not blank canvases—our interactions with patients are shaped by our values and experiences, and it is up to us to seek help when they put our patients, and ourselves, at risk.Katherine Bettany, editor, Student BMJ
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2013;21:f5818