THE PHILIPPINE Medical Association (PMA) has backed the pro-life position that life begins at fertilization, insisting that this scientific fact should be the basis of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

In a statement sent to the Senate, PMA also rejected the RH bill's penalty clause on doctors and argued that religious beliefs of patients should be respected.

The group of doctors demanded “utmost respect” for physicians’ rights, which are being threatened by the RH bill.

The bill will require doctors to provide RH services, and those who object on the grounds of conscience must refer the patient to another doctor or face penalties.

“They (physicians) must be left undisturbed to decide what is best for their patients,” stated the position paper, signed by PMA President Dr. Oscar Tinio and PMA Commission on Legislation Chairman Dr. Bu Castro.

Castro, who graduated from the faculties of Medicine and Surgery and Civil Law, said in a telephone interview that physicians also have the “right to choose their patients except in emergency cases.”

“For example, a patient refuses to undergo blood transfusion [because of his religious beliefs], I would have to choose another patient other than him,” Castro said.

The PMA said a patient’s right to exercise his or her religion “must be accorded full respect,” and that patients are entitled to quality health services.

The government should prioritize maternal and child health care over the distribution of contraceptives, the group added.

The PMA said it only supports the bill “insofar as it is founded strongly on the principle that ‘life or conception begins at fertilization.’”

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“We (PMA) support it (RH bill) because its conviction is ‘fertilization is the beginning of life,’” Castro said. “Otherwise, if the interpretation is implantation, we don’t support it.”

“All contraceptives that ‘prevent’ fertilization are okay [for the PMA], but those which ‘destroy’ [the egg] after fertilization are abortifacients, and we do not approve that,” he said.

Included in the abortifacient contraceptives mentioned by Castro are RU-489, the morning-after pill, and the intrauterine device (IUD).

Preventing the fertilized egg from implanting into the wall of the uterus is considered an early-term abortion, the group said.

Pro-life groups consider pills as abortifacients. Oral contraceptive pills work by preventing ovulation, but in case of "breakthrough ovulation" and fertilization, the hostile environment created by chemicals in the uterine lining could prevent implantation. Pills have also been declared Group 1 carcinogens by a research body under the World Health Organization (see story on page 1).

“Some speak of ‘accidental pregnancies’ as if getting pregnant were like getting hit by a car…But the truth is that if a pregnancy results from an act of sexual intercourse, this means that something has gone right, not that something has gone wrong,” the PMA statement said.

The PMA said the assumption that life begins at implantation (normally on the 14th day from the start of fertilization) is wrong because there is already a living individual from fertilization.

It said the so-called “pre-embryo” stage of fertilization, advocated by Clifford Grobstein and Richard McCormick, S.J. in 1979, had conclusions based on “frog biology.”

“[T]he PMA does not support the studies done on frogs but rather it supports the scientific data that a new cell, the zygote, comes into existence at the ‘moment’ of sperm-egg fusion, an event that occurs in less than a second," the position paper said.

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The statement added that there is no human embryologist in the world who would deny that life begins at fertilization.

“The PMA thus abhors any procedure, machination or scheme or medication that will interrupt any stage of fertilization and prevents its normal growth to adulthood until the stage of natural death,” the statement said.

The group added that contraception treats a woman’s body as though there was something wrong with how God created it.

“In an age that has become very weary of dumping pollutants into the environment, it is so ironic that people are so willing to dump pollutants into their bodies,” the statement said.

Among the health risks of contraceptives mentioned in the statement are high blood pressure, stroke, and some forms of cancer.

Castro also said the way the RH bill was written was “discriminatory against the rights of women,” because the contraceptives mentioned in the bill are mainly taken by women.

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