A Christian doctor in the U.K. has been removed as a medical advisor to an adoption panel after having asked to be able to abstain from voting on rare occasions when she would be asked to recommend children for adoption by same-sex couples.
Dr. Sheila Matthews served on the adoption panel of Northamptonshire’s Children’s Services for 5 years as part of her responsibilities as a community pediatrician. She would conduct medical examinations of prospective parents so as to establish whether they were healthy enough to care for a child. She would then present her findings to the panel, made up of councilors, social workers, and members of the general public, and they would together discuss and vote on the suitability of the parents for adoption.
“I try to make fair and unbiased assessments and recommendations about the individuals who apply to adopt,” she said. However, she believes it is “inappropriate to place children in a household with same sex parents as the best option.”
“Using my professional judgement and having done a lot of reading around the subject, I am satisfied that there are research findings which support my position that a same sex partnership is not the best family setting to bring up children,” she said. “Therefore professionally and personally I cannot recommend placement in a same-sex household to be in the best interest of a child, despite what politicians may have legislated for.”
“As those on the Panel have a legal obligation to do what they believe is in the best interests of the child,” she continued, “then I cannot support a recommendation with which I do not agree. This conflicts with my professional, religious and personal integrity.”
Dr. Matthews had previously abstained from voting on the suitability of same-sex couples on the grounds that same-sex adoption contravened her beliefs. But in February when she informed the head of the Northamptonshire’s Children’s Services, Martin Pratt, of her intention to abstain from a vote on a new application by a same-sex couple, she was summoned to a meeting with Mr. Pratt, which took place on April 22.
At the meeting Matthews was told that her position did not comply with equality legislation, namely the 2006 Equality Act, which barred discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gave same-sex couples equal rights for adoption. A few days later she was told she was to be replaced due to the “significant problems” that her views created for the adoption service.
Mr. Pratt stated, “There are three concerns that I have: that we have to comply with the law, that we attract the widest possible range of suitable adopters and that we comply with our own policies.
“I believe,” he continued, “that we could not allow a panel member to continue to participate in the process who is unable to consider, on the merits of the application alone, applications to adopt.”
Dr. Matthews has written to Northamptonshire County Council to request reinstatement on the adoption panel, but has not yet received a reply. Her case has been taken on by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) who has given the case to leading human rights lawyer Paul Diamond.
According to Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the CLC, “This is a further example of how a well respected professional who holds conscientious views on sexual practice, informed by Christian faith, is being asked to choose between her faith and her job.
“Recent anti-discrimination legislation is having the opposite effect and devout Christians are suffering the consequences,” he said. “This is not the mark of a free and civilised society where freedom of speech and religion is carefully guarded.”
Dr. Matthews faced trial in 1999, being sued by a former patient for not having referred her for an abortion in 1989. The woman asked Matthews at 14 and a half weeks gestation about abortion, but after having delivered her child, discovered he had cerebral palsy. The mother sought damages, but Matthews was acquitted.
To contact Northamptonshire County Council:
Customer Service Centre
Northamptonshire County Council
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Phone: 01604 236236
Fax: 01604 236828