The Medical Board moonlights as a censorship board

July 30, 2018

A doctor is being hit with professional misconduct charges for retweeting two tweets by Conservative Party Queensland Senate candidate Lyle Shelton regarding same-sex-marriage and a book about gender ideology.

The Daily Telegraph reports, Toowoomba GP Dr David van Gend has been notified of a complaint by the oversight arm of the Medical Board of Australia, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

The agency alleges van Gend may be guilty of “discriminatory conduct” for twice doing no more than retweeting Lyle Shelton's tweets in April.

The agency accuses van Gend of “presenting as a medical practitioner and providing information that is ‘clearly not medically, psychologically, nor scientifically based’ and not promoting public health”.

The doctor must explain in writing to the Medical Board by 12pm Thursday: “Whether your posting on social media ‘twitter’ promotes the health of the community and advances the health and wellbeing of individual patients”.

AHPRA is a powerful body that can prosecute, engage police and apply criminal sanctions to doctors who transgress medical ethics and the law. AHPRA was first created to prevent killers, incompetent practitioners and charlatans who endanger lives - not to stop private citizens with medical degrees from expressing their opinions.

The Conservative Party are been long-standing and strident advocates for free speech, on debates such as controversial 18C and have publicly defended Australians attacked for speaking freely about their views - and those of millions of other Australians - such as Margaret Court, Sonia Kruger and Israel Folau.

What makes Dr Van Gend's case all the more sinister is the fact the Board now wants to apply even more repressive speech controls on medicos.

An Orwellian revision to its code of conduct (‘Good Medical Practice; a code of conduct for doctors in Australia’) threatens deregistration and silences dissenting doctors who speak out — or even retweet — on contentious topics from euthanasia to child gender reassignment.

Of particular concern to doctors is section 2.1 of the draft code:

“you need to acknowledge and consider the effect of your comments and actions outside work, including online, on your professional standing and on the reputation of the profession. If making public comment, you should acknowledge the profession’s generally accepted views and indicate when your personal opinion differs. Behaviour which could undermine community trust in the profession … may be considered unprofessional.”

As one group of concerned doctors wrote in a submission to the Board:

“This paragraph can be used against free speech and free debate... Great advances in medicine and social action have been made as a result of doctors ‘going against the flow’.”

Why is this so dangerous?

While the wording may seem innocuous enough, it is in reality, very dangerous - threatening medical professionals' fundamental freedom to speak and act according to their conscience.

Given the important role doctors play in society, if it affects doctors, it has the potential to affect all of us.

Looking at the problem in more detail, it is a threat to freedom in the following ways:

1. Freedom of Speech.

It puts implied limits on what doctors are allowed to say in public or online. If the doctor provides evidence for their view and says nothing illegal or defamatory, why do they need to even mention the profession’s position? It is in reality a thinly disguised attempt to muzzle doctors who hold views that are different from the majority from openly expressing those views.

2. Freedom of practice.

If a doctor practices medicine that is deemed ‘unconventional’ by the majority but gets good results, this code could stop that doctor from promoting their practice. It is vague, ambiguous and does not specify how and why a doctor who holds views different from the profession and expresses them in public is a threat to the profession. It doesn’t specify what will be deemed unprofessional and who will determine what is unprofessional

3. Freedom of research.

Many breakthroughs in medicine came about because someone challenged the ‘herd mentality’ of the majority. This code could actually harm the progress of the progression

4. Freedom to campaign.

Those campaigning against issues such as euthanasia, abortion and same sex marriage often look to members of the medical profession who hold similar views to provide them with evidence supporting their position. If the majority of the profession support euthanasia however, then any doctor publicly opposing euthanasia, for example, may be found guilty of unprofessional conduct. The same holds for the alternate scenario if a majority opposed euthanasia. The revised code could rob everyday people who campaign on moral or cultural issues of allies in the medical profession.

If this concerns you then please email your concerns to medboardconsultation@ahpra.gov.au

To read Miranda Devine's full article, click here.

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