Dr Hannah Pierce is an O&G Trainee. She studied at Keele Medical School where she was also an interviewer. She taught at Keele medical school as a clinical fellow and she co-wrote theMSAG's Interview Guidebook.
So you’re in your medical school interview and things are going okay so far. Then comes the following question: Do you agree with abortion procedures?
Suddenly a million and one thoughts are flying around your head: What do they want me to say? Should I give my honest opinion? Oh God, I can’t remember what the laws are regarding abortion procedures… Isn’t there a set number of weeks it’s allowed up to for the pregnant woman? Something about two doctors…
Let’s break this question down into manageable chunks. Remember this is an ethical question at its heart so we can structure it like a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you can’t quite remember how to structure these answers then refer back to our blog ‘How to answer medical school ethical questions'.
Let’s set the scene by defining our terms and identifying our key issues. First off what is an abortion? Well, it’s the termination of a pregnancy so that it doesn’t result in the birth of a child.
In the UK, the Abortion Act of 1967 allows doctors to perform abortions lawfully as long as certain conditions are met. These conditions allow for termination of a pregnancy up until 24 weeks if two doctors agree that ‘the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy was terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family’.
The act also allows for terminations with no time limit in cases where there is a risk to the pregnant woman’s mental or physical health, or when the unborn child has been found to have abnormalities that would cause suffering on birth.
This is where you can show off your knowledge about the ethical principles! Let’s go through them in turn.
These are just a few of many possible arguments that could be made to argue for and against abortion, but these should be enough to get you started. And don’t forget to also consider the 3 C’s: Consent, Capacity, and Confidentiality.
At this point, you can also ask for additional information. In this instance, the question asks for your opinion so you don’t really need any more information but if the question asked you about a specific case then you may want to clarify certain points.This could include: How many weeks pregnant is the patient discussed? What are the circumstances of the pregnancy, for example, was it a planned parenthood or are there medical issues with the unborn child? What support does the pregnant woman have available to her?
You can also say if you would ask for help at this point and if so who from. Again, this would depend on how the question was asked but for very difficult ethical cases you can always consider talking to a senior colleague or your defense union.
So now you’ve discussed all the different arguments for and against abortion it’s time to nail your colours to the mast and pick a side. But is there a right answer to this question? In most ethical questions there isn’t a right or wrong answer as long as you backup what you say with your ethical points.
The one caveat to this is that you act in the best interests of your patient. In this instance, if you ethically object to abortion and the termination of human life then that’s okay but you should recognise that it would be wrong to impose these views on your patient and therefore enable them to see a different doctor about the issue.
I hope this has given you some ideas about how you would go about answering questions about abortion in your medical school interview. It would now be good practice for you to try putting all these points together to form your own answer to this question.
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