I was disheartened to read about the new rule for servicemembers assigned to northern Iraq that [would have] imposed punishment for members who become pregnant and their sexual partner. It [might have] created a harmful barrier between our deployed people and their health care provider.

It is my sense that punitive policies may displace the focus among deployed members from preserving their health to preventing the consequences of getting caught for having sex. Members may be hesitant to seek pregnancy testing and instead hide their condition as long as possible. This could result in harm to the member and her fetus.

Similar policies that prohibit sex are also harmful. People with symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection may avoid seeking care. People may be afraid to ask for birth control pill refills or condoms. In effect, these fears or concerns may dilute the capacity of military medicine to protect the health of deployed members.

Even if this policy [had not been] strictly enforced, the rumor that a "policy of punishment" is in force may negatively affect the health-care-seeking behavior of our people, driving them away from their healer, delaying pregnancy testing, delaying diagnosis of infections, inhibiting opportunities for prevention counseling and future risk reduction, extending the period of STI infectivity to future partners, and exacerbating STI illness by delaying treatment.

There are instances in which medical professionals have a duty to disclose patient information to a third party, such as reports of child abuse or threats to do harm. Outside of these well-defined and rare instances, military medicine must provide a reasonable and reliable level of patient privacy. Breaches of medical privacy — real or perceived — and punishment as a consequence of seeking health care, may ultimately harm the health of the force and, thereby, the mission.

Chief Master Sgt. Bob MacDonald (retired)Virginia Beach, Va.

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