Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Always let your conscience be your guide? Part 4

The Christian Medical Fellowship is at it again. This time, it has gender reassignment surgery in its sights. And just like all the other times, its relationship with facts is non-monogamous.

Dr Peter Saunders of the CMF is claiming that doctors risk disciplinary action if they refuse to carry out gender reassignment surgery. He says this is yet another symptom of how Christian doctors are being marginalised and penalised for their beliefs.

However, the Royal College of Surgeons has confirmed that gender reassignment operations are not something a general surgeon would be expected to do. There are many different kinds of surgery involved and like other areas of specialist surgery they require training. A doctor who had objections wouldn’t elect to be trained in this area in the first place.

So where is the problem? Has Dr Saunders read the story of the boy who cried wolf?

Not surprisingly, the Mail has written Doctors 'forced to carry out sex-change ops' under rules meant to 'marginalise Christian medics'.

They got the story from Dr Saunders’ blog Christian Medical Comment where he claims that ‘Legislation and regulations are being used to marginalise Christian health professionals in Britain. British medicine in the 21st Century now involves practices which many doctors regard as unethical. A significant number of doctors do not wish to be involved in sex-change operations or prescribing contraceptives to unmarried couples.’

He gives no evidence for what this ‘significant number’ might be.

The CMF website says things like
God created each of us in his image, male and female, and he doesn't make mistakes… This issue has tremendous implications for society at large and the institution of marriage in particular… the doctor's duty in treating his/her patients is to restore people to what God originally intended … giving sex change treatment goes beyond this remit.
In his rant blog, Saunders refers to the General Medical Council’s current consultation on personal belief and medical practice, including conscientious objections. Draft guidance says
‘You may choose to opt out of providing a particular procedure because of your personal beliefs and values’ and adds ‘The exception to this is gender reassignment since this procedure is only sought by a particular group of patients (and cannot therefore be subject to a conscientious objection)’.
Gender reassignment surgery has been available on the NHS since 1999 and the Equality Act 2010 prohibits doctors from discriminating against people who are undergoing gender reassignment treatment. So this is not just something the GMC has come up with on a whim, it’s the law.

Although his blog mostly relates to surgery, Saunders also mentions GPs with religious objections who would not currently be allowed to opt out of referring a patient to a specialist or providing related treatments.

It appears that he has not read his own web site. For example, one doctor writes:
I would emphasise that I am no expert in this type of problem and would be happy to refer him to a psychologist to explore his request further.
This may be a fudge to avoid being accused of discrimination but it would ensure that the doctor’s beliefs would not affect the patient. It also means that Saunders does not even represent all CMF members or Christian doctors.

The GMC consultation closes on 13 June. The CMF’s response to the consultation is here.

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