Author Beware: Don’t Make Medical People Look Like Uncaring Idiots 1/3

I’m starting out my medical posts of the New Year truly fired up . . . and not in a good way. This title sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s exactly how I feel.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, then you know I’m passionate (just slightly) about medical accuracy in novels. This is why this blog exists and a major reason was to clear up misconceptions about medical people and how they perform in their job.

teen-girl-2Let me first state, clearly, that you can have a bad medical person in a novel. They can even be doing bad things. Criminal things. That’s what drives fiction. Tension. Conflict. However, also should the author help the reader realize, in some fashion, that the author knows this fictional medical character is doing these things inappropriately and it is not a normal medical experience. To help with this, I encourage all authors everywhere to write a medical person performing ethically as a balance in the scene or book. This is beneficial so you don’t anger every medical person out there to want to hold gas and flame to your hard earned written prose.

Professionals like to be portrayed accurately in their profession. Anyone remember how Joy Behar angered thousands of nurses? Yes, this is what writers should avoid.

What follows is an exert from a highly popular mainstream novel. This novel hit both the New York Times AND USA Today Bestseller lists. I’m not naming the book or author here and if you know what either of these are, please do not leave it in the comments section. I’m only using the quotes as a teaching points.

For background, a fourteen-year-old female (from what I can tell from the book) believes she has been raped. She’s going to Planned Parenthood for the Morning-After Pill. The rape occurred on a Friday around midnight. The character is presenting for treatment Monday after school. What follows in italics is an exert from the book.

While she examined me, she explained what the Morning-after pill was. “Not an abortion,” she reminded me twice. “If the sperm has already implanted the egg, it won’t do anything.”

Problem: Medical professionals are careful to separate opinion from medical fact. A patient might view what an abortion is differently than their medical provider and ultimately a medical provider’s job is to disseminate medical information and not their personal opinion. If it is their personal opinion, it should clearly be identified as such.

Some people view abortion as terminating a pregnancy at any stage— including just after fertilization. You will find web sites that claim the Morning-after Pill is not an abortion pill. However, you also can find two, well respected medical sites (Web MD and The Mayo Clinic) that state one of the actions of the Morning-after Pill is “keeping a fertilized egg from implanting.”

Solution:  It would have been better for the medical provider in this passage to simply state the following. “The Morning-after pill works by delaying or preventing ovulation, blocking fertilization, or keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. However, there is evidence out there that suggests that it also doesn’t keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. My personal opinion is that this is not an abortion pill.”

Given this information, a patient can then decide for themselves if this is ethically something they want to choose to do without the personal bias of the medical provider influencing their decision.

A patient should always be given opportunity to choose medically what works within their ethical framework. If the medical provider cannot support them in doing that (what is a reasonable decision) then they should refer them to a provider that can.

Next post, we’ll continue our discussion on the medical issues in this novel.

In full disclosure, I am pro-life.

What are your thoughts on this passage in how the medical provider relays the information to this fourteen-year-old girl?

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