Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Emergency Contraception"

I was chatting to an A&E doctor recently, who used the phrase "emergency contraception", and it struck me just how bad a phrase it is. Here are some basic dictionary definitions (from wiktionary):

contraception - the use of a device or procedure to prevent conception as a result of sexual activity

conception - 3. The initiation of an embryonic animal life; the fertilization of an ovum by a sperm to form a zygote

So contraception is acting to stop the sperm fertilizing the egg as a result of sex.

"Emergency contraception", however, is a hormone pill given to women after sexual activity, commonly called the "morning after pill". As far as I recall, the hormones don't actually do much to the egg or sperm cells; it's much more likely that they act by preventing implantation of the fertilized egg cell. And that isn't contraception.

"Emergency contraception" is what those machines on the walls in pub toilets are for (as far as I can tell). If a doctor was to provide emergency contraception, it would be as a result of someone running in saying "Quick, give me something. I think I've pulled"...

So why use a misleading term? Simple - "contraception" sounds a heck of a lot better than "abortion" or "termination", which themselves are nicer names for embryocide, just the same as "family planning" sounds like something sensible rather than being largely about planning families by killing unwanted members, which is what it often ends up as.

People would doubtless argue that using language like "emergency contraception" means that the choice becomes less emotionally charged, which is true. But is being emotionally uncharged a good thing? Surely if calling a spade a spade leads to decisions being emotionally charged, then it's right that they should be.

An extreme example. Someone who shoots innocent people without experiencing some degree of emotional charge is a psychopath. That is a bad thing. Some decisions, especially decisions involving ending life, should be emotionally charged. So call a spade a spade.

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