Sunday 26 February 2012

Does conflict of interest for abortion providers matter?

There is always something precarious about joining a discussion on something somebody knows very little. So I will stay clear of talking about the controversial topic of abortion which has been in the news recently. 
There is something I can talk about though. And that is whether or not, as a matter of principle, it is right and proper for anybody who advises people on a particular course of action, to have a stake in the resulting choice. In other words, should advice always be impartial and, in turn, can it possibly be impartial if the person giving the advice has a financial interest in one outcome over another? 
The controversy about Marie Stopes raises exactly this question and Nadine Dorries has consistently questioned the propriety of their dual arrangement, delivering impartial advice as well as carrying out abortions in the UK. 
Perhaps we may find some guidance in this matter by looking at other fields and how they deal with potential conflicts of interest. Let us take the matter of auditing business accounts. Following the scandal of ENRON and its dubious accounting practices, we have come to expect auditors of business accounts to be independent of the company they are monitoring. This has been a fundamental and hard won lesson. 
Now, could there possibly be any parallels between independent auditing in companies and abortion advice? Of course, the decision of a woman about a pregnancy is infinitely more complex. The moral case of creating a robust framework which allows women to get the best advice society can provide on this matter however seems to share some features with conflicts of interest in other areas of life. 
And this is where some parallel can be drawn: if we do not allow the mundane world of business to conflate their day to day practice and credible oversight, why should we stop women from getting impartial advice? 
Perhaps it is time we look again at whether the current abortion law provides the best service women can get. 

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