24 September 2005

contraception. for free.

I had heard prior to arriving in the UK that contraception here is free. I did not, of course, believe this. but having now visited my "GP" to figure out how to translate my prescription from US pharmacy speak into UK pharmacy speak, he has confirmed this revolutionary notion. on the surface it doesn't seem revolutionary, I'll grant you. but my monthly prescription costs about $20 if you find the cheapest place to get it and go with generic. that $240/year has been lessened for me by various health care plans that have covered prescriptions at varying levels. So for me, amongst the wealthiest in the world, this is a nice bonus, a few extra "quid" that I can spend on iTunes downloads, new boots, or ringtones for my mobile.

but it's revolutionary nonetheless, because free birth control means it's free. you need only go to a doctor (also free and freely available—I made an appointment one week in advance and waited only 15 minutes for the appointment once I arrived. I paid nothing to see the doctor.) I imagine that in major urban areas where the population density is higher and there are fewer doctors this would not be the case (in terms of the waiting and the ease of appointment) but the free part, at least to see the doc, would be the same. and he told me to see the chemist at the pharmacy. which pharmacy? I ask, thinking there will be some sort of limit on where I can go, who I can see, etc. Well, perhaps there is a limit, if you consider that he told me to go to the closest pharmacy to my home, two blocks down the road. I didn't get the sense that I was required to go there, though, just that he chose that one for convenience.

so then I thought that perhaps there were limits on who could get this free contraception in terms of age-limits. so I did some digging (not a lot, mind you) and found this patient information site that involved an argument about how best to make sure that teens came in to get the contraceptives so that they wouldn't get pregnant. Here's the advice they were giving to GPs:
Under 16s Guidance from BMA and others states that 'the duty of confidentiality owed to a person under 16 is as great as that owed to any other person'.
However, there is complete right of confidentiality where issues such as abuse and child protection are involved. Guidance also states that 'any competent young person, regardless of age, can independently seek medical advice and give valid consent to treatment'. Following the Gillick case the Department of Health issued the following guidance on providing contraceptive advice and treatment to young people under the age of 16: A doctor needs to be satisfied that:
  • That the young person could understand his advice and have sufficient maturity to understand what was involved in terms of the moral, social and emotional implications.
  • That he could neither persuade the young person to inform the parents, nor to allow him to inform them, that contraceptive advice was being sought.
  • That the young person would be very likely to begin, or to continue, having sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment.
  • That without contraceptive advice or treatment, the young person's physical or mental health or both would be likely to suffer.
  • That the young person's best interests required him to give contraceptive advice or treatment or both without parental consent.
(Dept. of Health 1986 guidance on the provision of contraceptive advice to young people under 16 years old)

wow. it had always seemed silly to me that in the US the debate was over abstinence and forcing kids not to have sex, when what it should be about is making sure that stupid acts, like those we all did as teens, don't end up utterly changing your life, taking choices away from you, putting you in situations that you aren't prepared for. and teens do stupid things. and when we don't give them any respect in their own choices as they begin to make them, when we take away their ability to choose something smart, that just seems societally irresponsible, nigh suicidal.

of course, the free health care thing means this is possible in the UK and not in the US. but it doesn't have to be that way. we could at least allow greater access for those under 18 to get contraception, for free. because there's always trouble when the unwanted child comes along and you have to drive four states over to get the abortion, which you waited too long to get anyway (out of shame and you're supposed to abstain, right?) and you don't have the money for it (raising the child or getting rid of it) and now forget college, forget pulling yourself up out of poverty. you've been ignored and forgotten.

revolutionary. that's all I'm saying.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Just to support your opinion, I had what I consider to be a harrowing experience at the pharmacist the other day when I went to buy cold medicine. I couldn't find the medicine, which was frustrating (having a cold) but I was relieved to see a picture of what I wanted on a slip of paper that said, "take to pharmacist." I picked it up and got in line. While I was waiting (for someone who was paying for their contraception, incidentally), I was reading the form. It said something about Target's effort to serve the community by implementing the 'Combat Meth act of 2005' (http://www.theorator.com/bills109/s103.html) which identifies pseudophedrine, a main ingredient in the making of crystal meth, as a controlled substance and regulates its dispensation - only by pharmacists, and only to people over the age of 18.

That's right, the day before you turn 18, if you have a cold, you can't get cold medicine. The day after you turn 18, you should pick that cold medicine up on your way to basic training, or on your way to vote.

Now, I've seen what happens ot people on meth, and I know it destroys lives and kills people. I also know that with a few household chemicals, you can make it in the bathtub. What I didn't know, was that, apparently, meth is being made by a bunch of people under the age of 18. Why else would the government regulate it for that age group?

I looked it up. According to the Office of Drug Control Policy:

During 1999 4.3% (9.4 million people) of the U.S. population reported trying methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. The highest rate of methamphetamine use was among the 18-25 age group, with 5.2% of them reporting lifetime methamphetamine use during 1999. Of those between the ages of 12 and 17 1.4% reported lifetime use and for those 26 and over lifetime use of methamphetamine was 4.5%.

So, wait, the highest group is 18-25, so shouldn't those people be disallowed from purchasing cold medicine?

The only explanation I've been able to get is liability. So, Target, and the government, are protecting corporations from getting in trouble for the activities that people under 18 perform in the privacy of their homes with their cold medicine?

Sometimes I feel like the government doesn't fully recognize the dangers associated with crystal meth, and they are just trying to protect themselves and their buddies. I don't want drugs to get into the hands of children either, but I don't think we can have any hope that they will become dependable, responsible adults if they can't even purchase cold medicine.