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Leave health choices between patients and doctors


It had been a rough time for my family even before the doctor gave me the final diagnosis.

The news wasn’t good: the health problems I’d been experiencing had a painful solution. I needed a vasectomy immediately, or I’d risk severe complications.

Though I’d hoped to have kids one day, I made the painful and private choice to go through with the procedure. My doctor, who I had consulted with throughout the process, nodded knowingly.

Then he showed me the pictures.

I was confused. He’d handed me photographs of adorable toddlers. What gives, I asked – what does this have to do with medical treatment I’d just chosen?

“I’m required to do so by law,” he replied. “These represent the kids you won’t be able to have if you go through with the procedure. You can look away if you like – but if you do, I have to note that on the form.”

But this is crazy, I protested. This is a private matter about a legal medical procedure. Why is my doctor being forced to levy pressure on me before I can access care?

“Don’t ask me,” my doctor replied. “The legislature says it’s your Right to Know.”

By now you’ve probably realized that I’m just fine. There is no state law forcing men to view propaganda when making medical decisions.

That dubious privilege is reserved for North Carolina’s women, who must listen to a raft of anti-abortion talking points before they can access reproductive health care. Beginning in October, thanks to the General Assembly’s override of Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto, your doctor is no longer your private confidante and health professional.

Some will say this vasectomy analogy is an unfair comparison. I’d say that’s right: it’s an unfair comparison for women, who have to worry about pregnancies caused by rape or incest. The so-called Right to Know law, amazingly, has no exception for either of those situations.

This law means that a teenager raped by a relative has to listen to anti-abortion material conjured up by conservative lawmakers. She’ll be forced to do so before she can access medical care at a vulnerable time in her life.

It also means that “any father of an unborn child” – yes, including rapists or family members – can sue the abortion provider if they fail to follow the script. So much for small government, right?

Let’s see this for what it is: a radical assault on the doctor-patient relationship, a move that undermines reproductive health, and a law that we’d laugh off the books if it were applied to men like me.

No, abortion is not an exact comparison to the reproductive health issues men face, like vasectomies or Viagra prescriptions.

But that’s precisely the point. We all — men and women alike — face specific health needs that are particular to us as individuals. To threaten the private relationship between doctor and patient undermines health care for everyone.

Just imagine yourself in your doctor’s waiting room. You’re about to discuss a personal health matter, one that could affect you for the rest of your life. Wouldn’t you want the certainty your doctor’s only obligation is helping you make the best health care decision?

Most importantly: don’t you want to live in a North Carolina where everyone has that certainty?

Gov. Perdue was right to veto this bill. The fact that the legislature overrode that veto to create this shameful law should trouble every North Carolinian.

Jeff Shaw is the Director of Communications at the North Carolina Justice Center