Can you ever see yourself being in the situation of asking yourself how you can be both true to who you are as a person and who you are as a doctor?  Is there potential for conflict?  What do you do if there is one?

These situations don’t happen every day, but can be hard to work through and intensely personal for both doctors and their patients.  They can evoke great debate and take a significant toll on those involved.

Debates about these issues have been going on for some time, but have been brought into sharper focus in recent times by the

  • Proposed Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill, which makes reform proposals around conscientious objection and ‘conduct rules’ – these are rules a ‘qualifying body’ like the Medical Board or a college, or an employer / other organisation may impose on a doctor outside the workplace
  • Expectations of doctors in their professional and personal lives as part of the review of the Medical Board’s Good Medical Practice Code
  • Voluntary assisted dying regimes now in force in Victoria, and expected to be implemented in Western Australia from mid 2021
  • NSW Abortion Reform Act imposes obligations on doctors when approached by a woman seeking abortion even if they hold views of conscience opposed to abortion.

How can the profession ensure appropriate access to healthcare, respect for personal beliefs and ethics, and preserve medicine’s professionalism?  How can a doctor exercise a conscientious objection or express a personal view in a public forum?

MIGA is conscious our members have a broad range of personal and ethical beliefs.  We take no position on what a doctor should or should not do.  Instead we engage in consultation and debate to work out ways forward which are sensible, practical and fair for all doctors, their patients and healthcare more broadly.

Most recently, MIGA contributed to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s consultation on the proposed Religious Discrimination Bills¹.  Key issues raised included:

  • Conscientious objection proposals are likely to displace a range of existing provisions in professional codes and standards, leaving considerable uncertainty around the scope for conscientious objection
  • Conduct rule proposals add new complexities to professional codes and standards, causing considerable uncertainty around issues such as the divide between healthcare and the private sphere, and scope for personal comment

We argued for further, detailed work with the profession before any proposals come into effect, particularly development of consensus guidelines for the profession.

If these proposals lead to significant changes for the profession, we will let you know.

1 MIGA’s submission to the review is available at www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Documents/religious-freedom-bills-second-draft/submissions/MedicalInsuranceGroupAustralia(MIGA)

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