Caroline Deys, family planner who became church reader
She performed around 4,750 vasectomies in the 1970s
12 November, 2019 — By Helen Chapman
With her baby daughter balanced on her hip whilst visiting patients at home, she wanted to show that contraceptive health was a natural choice when working as family planner in the 1960s.
Caroline Deys, a campaigner and general practitioner whose work helped lead to the 1967 Abortion Act, has died.
Ms Deys set up a singlehanded general practice in Highgate in the early 1980s, splitting her Brookfield Park home into two and operating the service from downstairs.
A lover of cats, Ms Deys had two diabetic pets, Oscar and Timmy, who would roam the GP waiting room and entertain patients.
Word soon got round about Ms Deys’ ability to care for cats with diabetes – she got a call from a vet leading her to rehome a third feline.
After she retired, many of her patients switched to Brookfield Park Surgery in Chester Road.
In her later years Ms Deys became a Reader at St Mary Brookfield Church in Dartmouth Park.
Her stepfather, a Freudian psychotherapist, led her to become interested in psychology.
But Ms Deys moved toward a Jungian approach, becoming interested in the personal quest for growth.
“She found that Anglicanism agreed with her,” said Henry Potts, her son. “She took an interest in the importance of the community and saw religion as a way of providing community and ritual.”
Ms Deys campaigned to legalise abortion in the UK with her husband at the time, Professor Malcom Potts, now working at the University of California.
“She would put forth arguments from a medical point of view that this [legal abortion] was the right thing,” said Henry.
In 1970 Ms Deys worked from the Marie Stopes Memorial Centre, near Tottenham Court Road, believed to be the oldest family planning clinic in the country.
She performed around 4,750 vasectomies over the decade.
Professor Potts, Henry’s father, who learned how to perform vasectomies in India, said: “I taught her vasectomy but she was a much better surgeon than I was. Caroline had specialised in ophthalmic surgery and used to joke she was good at operating on delicate circular objects.”
But in 1972, she was charged with serious professional misconduct before the General Medical Council for allegedly “promoting her own professional advantage”.
She was acquitted, having successfully argued she was promoting vasectomies, not herself, and the GMC subsequently revised its rules.
Ms Deys died in the Whittington Hospital on May 6, aged 80, from complications arising from type 2 diabetes.
Her funeral took place in June at Golders Green Crematorium, followed by a service at St Mary Brookfield.
She leaves behind two children, Henry Potts and Sarah Longlands, and one grandchild, William.