Current Affairs

Doctor removed from adoption panel for refusing to consider gay couples

Ramsey DeHani July 20, 2009
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A Christian doctor has been removed from an adoption panel after she refused to endorse applications by same-sex couples.

Dr Sheila Matthews was removed from the panel after she asked to be allowed to abstain from voting in cases involving same-sex couples, on the grounds that it contravened her beliefs.

She was told that her beliefs on gay adoption were incompatible with equality legislation and council policies.

The 50-year-old paediatrician at St Marys’ Hospital in Kettering said that she had been “made to pay for being honest and upholding my personal integrity”.

As part of her duties as a community paediatrician, she has, for the past five years, conducted medical examinations of prospective parents in order to establish whether they are fit and healthy enough to adopt and provide long term care for a child.

She is then required to present her findings to one of Northamptonshire’s two adoption panels, made of up councillors, social workers and some members of the public. The panel is then required to discuss and vote on whether or not the prospective adoptive parents are suitable.

In the past, Dr Matthews said she has always abstained from any votes involving same-sex couples, but after the passing of the Equality Act in 2006, which bars any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and requires gay couples to be viewed on an equal basis in any applications for adoption.

However, in February a same-sex couple applied to the Northamptonshire panel. Dr Matthews told the head of Northamptonshire’s children’s services, Martin Pratt, that she was intending to abstain from any vote the panel made, and would not discuss her concerns with other panel members so as to not influence their decision.

Despite her promises she was barred from attending the panel and asked instead to meet with Mr Pratt to explain her position. Dr Matthews then told Mr Pratt that she felt unable to recommend same-sex applicants as suitable candidates. A few days Dr Matthews received notice from Mr Pratt informing her of the council’s decision to replace her due to the “significant problems” her views created for the adoption service.

In the letter, 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 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.”

In a statement, Dr Matthews said: “I don’t feel that placing children for adoption with same-sex couples is the best place for them.”

She added: “Mothers are more nurturing and fathers are more challenging and the combination of both is best for the development of a child.”

She went on to express concerns that “The children of gay adoptive parents are also more likely to be bullied at school, on top of being singled out as different because they are adopted.”

“As a Christian, I don’t believe it’s an appropriate lifestyle and I don’t believe the outcomes for children would be as good as if they were placed with heterosexual couples.”

Citing professional and personal reasons, she continued: “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.”

Dr Matthews has now written to Northamptonshire county council asking it to reconsider its decision, and to reinstate her onto the panel, an unpaid position which she fills as part of her duties as a community paediatrician.

She has yet to receive a reply, and is said to be considering whether or not to take the matter to an employment tribunal on the grounds of religious discrimination, in order to defend her right to attend the panel.

Her case has been referred to Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister, and she is backed by the Christian Legal Centre.

Dr Matthews was sued in 1999 by a woman who claimed she had barred her from having an abortion.

Michele Johnston said the doctor had wrongly told her she was too late to have an abortion when she was 14 and a half weeks pregnant with her severely disabled son.

Dr Matthews admitted she had strong religious objections to abortion but denied she had been negligent.

Ms Johnston lost her case at the High Court.

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