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09 Oct

Bioethicist calls for a ban on doctors’ conscientious objection

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Biothics professor Julian Savulescu says doctors in the public system should be banned from conscientiously refusing to perform procedures. Photo: Michael RaynerDoctors working in the public system should be banned from refusing to perform certain procedures, such as abortions, because of their religious beliefs, a leading bioethicist will argue in Brisbane next week.
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Oxford-based Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu will make the argument at a public lecture at the Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research next Tuesday.

In his lecture, Professor Savulescu will also argue doctors and health professionals should only enter medical specialities in which their values would not be in conflict with routine legal medical procedures.

“When a medical procedure, or one which doctors have a monopoly over, is desired by the patient, in the patient’s interests, and is a legal and reasonable use of limited resources, then that procedure ought to be provided by doctors,” he said.

“There is no place for conscientious objection at the bedside in these circumstances.”

ACHLR co-director Lindy Willmott said Professor Savulescu’s lecture was timely, given Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into Laws Governing Termination of Pregnancy in Queensland, the report of which was due to be released on Friday.

“What is essential is that doctors’ personal values don’t compromise patients’ access to medical care, and the health of women who seek or urgently require a termination,” Professor Willmott said.

“The safety and wellbeing of women in those situations should be the paramount concern and priority.”

Situations in which conscientious objections could be made by health workers included euthanasia and the withdrawal of treatment, contraception, sterilisation, and abortion.

Comment was sought from the Australian Medical Association, which has a stated position on conscientious objection.

“Doctors (medical practitioners) are entitled to have their own personal beliefs and values, as are all members of society,” the AMA policy statement says.

“There may be times, however, where a doctor’s personal beliefs conflict with their peer-based professional practice.

“A doctor who makes a conscientious objection to providing, or participating, in certain treatments or procedures should make every effort in a timely manner to minimise the disruption in the delivery of health care and ensuing burden on colleagues.

“The doctor needs to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the patient’s access to care is not impeded.”

Professor Savulescu’s free public lecture will be held at QUT’s Gardens Point campus, in the level 10 Gibson Room at Z Block on Tuesday at 5.30pm.

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