Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

Ok. This is a controversial subject. Highly controversial. As I write this there is currently a thread about it raging on one of my doctor-only online forum groups, but we’ll come back to that later.

So why am I writing this post?

Well recently Australia announced they were reviewing religious freedom, and the so called Religious Freedom Bills. All you need to do is type religious freedom Australia in to Google and you will see hundreds of pages from media outlets, the government, and other sources about this. There’s recently been a number of religious issues coming up in the mainstream media, and this seems to be a fairly hot topic in Australia.

So what is it?

Well as I understand, and I must admit I don’t understand it fully, it is trying to strengthen Australia’s Religious Freedom protections, i.e. protecting against discrimination on religious grounds. More information can be found here. Now for some reason in this latest version they have decided to do this using medical treatments, and used the examples of contraception or hormone treatments. As I understand it it essentially boils down to the doctor is allowed to refuse any treatment based on religious beliefs, but must refuse that same treatment to all patients and cannot discriminate against any particular patient.

For example, if a doctor refuses to treat a patient seeking hormones for gender issues based on religious grounds, then that doctor would have to also refuse to prescribe hormones for all their patients. How far this extends is not clear. As always the devil is in the detail, and it’s always the one thing that seems to be lacking.

Now as you can imagine this has the medical profession in a flurry of activity. Most are opposed to it, saying that religion should have no place in medicine. Others are supporting it saying that it further strengthen’s the doctor’s (or any other practitioner’s) right to decline to treat a patient if it contravenes their religious beliefs. Most however like me are simply unsure why they are bringing medics in to this? We never asked for it. We never lobbied for it.

I’m sure in time the royal colleges will be making position statements on it, and my bet would be they will not agree and will condemn it.

Now I personally don’t support this bill, because as I see it does potentially pave the way for discrimination against patients. I don’t object to delivering any treatment myself, and I do not support discrimination at all, however I do support the right of doctors to concienciously object to treatments they vehemently do not agree with as long as they provide other options, like onward referral. It is not acceptable in my book to simply say ‘I won’t treat you goodbye’ without offering options, and the legislation as it stands agrees with me. In most countries/states, doctors are allowed to concienciously object as long as we offer other options or onward referral. I believe that current legislative protections for concientious objection are sufficient.

So why did I mention my online groups?

Well it’s an interesting sight to see thousands of doctors speaking about one topic. If there’s one thing you can guarantee will get people fired up it’s religion, and discussion of religion. Now this isn’t a bad thing. Discussion is very important. We don’t want an echo-chamber. But whilst it’s ok for that discussion to be heated, and passionate, it should remain civil. I was extremely disappointed to see some (thankfully only a handful) of my fellow doctors calling for people to mock those with religion, or to exclude doctors with religious beliefs from practicing entirely, or even refusing them entry in to medical school. Essentially saying that those with religion should lose their livelihood and suffer simply because they are religious.

That is extremely disappointing to see from a group of professionals who claim to be inclusive and open.

As I’ve said before, doctors are human. And I guess with that comes the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link


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