Would it be ethical for a doctor to prescribe cigarettes to someone who was trying to lose weight? Of course not! Although the health risks of obesity are well known and extensive, the fact remains that cigarettes are carcinogenic, and cigarette-use causes more deaths annually than obesity-related deaths. It baffles me then that doctors prescribe the birth control pill in order to treat acne, as the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute has classified oral contraceptives as a Group I carcinogen, putting it in the same league as cigarettes and asbestos. Even if someone was not responding well to topical treatments, would that justify exposing them to such a health risk as the especially aggressive triple-negative breast cancer?
Of course, many people do not know of the pill's carcinogenic classification. And of the several birth control websites I perused, I found no such warning. Although the contraceptive websites included information that their product MAY reduce the risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, there was no mention of the strong link between the use of their products and breast cancer, the most common cause of cancer death in US women aged 20-59. Julie Robison, of OSVWeekly, writes:
And at least to scientists, the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer is no secret. Mayo Clinic proceedings reported in 2006 that women who use hormonal contraceptives for a minimum of four years before having their first full-term pregnancy have a 52 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. In "Oral Contraceptive Use and Breast Cancer Risk: Current Status," Dr. James R. Cerhan wrote, "One might have thought that the issue of whether oral contraceptives are associated with breast cancer risk would have been settled by now, given that these agents were introduced in the early 1960s and more than 60 case-control and 10 cohort studies, several meta-analyses, a very large pooled analysis, and a major monograph have addressed this issue."
Yet despite the strong and abundant evidence showing the danger of oral contraceptives and its classification as a group I carcinogen, the medical community generally still advises that the pill is safe, despite that the WHO classification is used "only when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans." In fact, WebMD cites 1994 and 1998 studies and completely ignores the most recent and comprehensive research. Furthermore, a recent poll found that most of the women taking the birth control pill did not know of its risks and were not given such information by their doctors. The WebMD website actually states, "For most women, especially young women, experts say the benefits of birth control pills far outweigh the risk." Shouldn't this be up to the woman herself to decide? How can she make an informed decision if she is not even informed of the risks, especially for the young women who are at the greatest risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer if they have not yet had a full-term pregnancy? I feel that this is unconscionable and unethical, and as far as being used as a treatment for acne, I feel this reinforces the cultural message that looking beautiful should be of greater priority to women than actually being healthy.
Of course the pill is not just used to treat acne. It is standard treatment for a variety of menstrual disorders. The good news is that there are doctors who are not content to merely cover up the symptoms of women's health issues and are dedicated to actually finding and treating the cause of these health concerns. The bad news is that such practice is by no means standard. The medical facility that is pioneering such research and practice is the Pope Paul VI Institute. The Institute has this to say on its website:
Oral contraceptives[...]provide only symptomatic treatment when prescribed for women's health problems, and they do not affect the underlying causes. The birth control pill is used to 'treat' menstrual cramps, recurrent ovarian cysts, abnormal bleeding, premenstrual syndrome, acne, irregular cycles, and endometriosis.
The name of the science spearheaded by the Paul VI Institute is called NaPro technology, which stands for Natural Procreative Technology. It is so named because it works with nature, rather than against it, and seeks to preserve the normal fuctioning of the human reproductive system, or where there is truly abnormal functioning, it seeks to return it to a healthy state.
For couples needing NaPro treatment, they typically learn the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning before receiving any treatment. In this method of NFP the woman charts specific observations regarding her cervical mucus which the NaPro trained doctor can interpret to know what is going on hormonally in the woman's body. These biomarkers help the doctor to truly treat any abnormalities.
This is another reason why I love Natural Family Planning. Aside from being completely natural and therefore side effect-free, the Creighton method of NFP can be used to help diagnose health problems. It does not cover up the symptoms of various conditions and can even give women an early warning that something is amiss in her body.
I, myself, have suffered through three miscarriages, experiencing my first in 2008. After the first two miscarriages, two different obstetricians told me that miscarriage was quite common and it was likely that something was wrong with the fetus. Miscarriage, I was told, was "nature's way of getting rid of a problem pregnancy." Typically, standard medicine will not even look for the underlying cause of miscarriage until a woman has experienced the heartache of at least three miscarriages. In contrast, the NaPro technology website has this to say on the topic of miscarriage:
Over the years, miscarriages have been observed as a somewhat “normal” finding. Often it has been thought to be “nature’s way” of ending a pregnancy which was doomed to fail in any regard. However, there has developed a somewhat more aggressive approach over the last 5 to 10 years towards evaluation and management of women with spontaneous abortion [miscarriage]. It is now well recognized that a definition of recurrent pregnancy loss includes two or more consecutive spontaneous miscarriages and that this warrants a full evaluation. Furthermore, it is becoming more and more recognized that there appears to be an association between infertility and spontaneous abortion.
A variety of factors underlie the occurrence of miscarriage. These include genetic, endocrinologic (hormonal), anatomic, immunologic and microbiologic variations. We are slowly coming to recognize that no miscarriage can be considered normal. All miscarriages are the result of a pathophysiologic reproductive event. It is the current challenge of medicine to find those underlying causes and, in some cases, underlying causes that are common occurrences are often overlooked. (Emphasis added.)
In regards to infertility, standard practice often involves the use of Clomid or even In Vitro Fertilization(IVF). For all the expense and waste of IVF however, it has a much lower success rate than NaPro technology in helping couples achieve a full-term pregnancy. Furthermore, NaPro is much less costly than IVF. Below is a chart comparing IVF and NaPro success rates according to the cause of infertility.
In Figure 51-38, a comparison is made of the “per woman” pregnancy rates between the NaProTECHNOLOGY approach and in vitro fertilization. This study shows that a NaProTECHNOLOGY approach for women who have anovulatory infertility, polycystic ovarian disease, endometriosis, or tubal occlusion, all have statistically significantly higher pregnancy rates than patients with similar conditions treated with in vitro fertilization. (link)
Unfortunately, because NaPro is not standard medical practice, the rarity of such practitioners leave many women with no other choice but to accept the standard "treatment" of oral contraceptive use to treat menstrual disorders so that they may experience pain relief and symptom management in order to function normally, or IVF to treat infertility. I feel that women deserve real health care. I feel that it is unethical that the wider medical community thinks that providing dangerous pills to cover up mere symptoms is acceptable treatment for women. Women deserve to receive real treatment of hormonal imbalances, menstrual disorders, and other health conditions without settling for subpar practices that unnecessarily exposes us to possibly greater harm.