Friday, May 07, 2004

Patient rights up in smoke

Antenatal clinics in Glasgow are to begin routinely test pregnant women to see if they smoke.

Health workers will check carbon monoxide levels in patients' breath, and if they are found to be smokers they will be offered nicotine-replacement therapy to help them quit. But these women already know if they smoke - so this test is really about catching out those who hide the fact that they smoke because they donít want to get grief about their choice of lifestyle.

This continues the trend by which healthcare is morally imposed on women whenever anything to do with babies is involved, from avoiding a whole host of foods and alcohol during pregnancy to diligently breastfeeding afterwards. Yet the risks attached to most of this advice are actually small, and it is far from inevitable that a smoker's baby will be sickly. Rather, mothers are made into naughty schoolgirls who need to be taught that their interests are secondary to those of their child, born or unborn. This smoking breath-test crosses a new line, by directly countering patientsí wishes.

The proper place for doctors and midwives is to advise their patients on what is best for them, then allow them to choose what to do. This latest initiative is patronising and illiberal.

Breath test move for mums-to-be, BBC News, 6 May 2004