A doctor in Victoria is refusing to offer vital reproductive health care – including prescribing contraception or providing advice about abortion and vasectomies – in what appears to be a growing issue in response to debate around the Religious Discrimination Bill.
A sign outside the Torquay Medical Health & Wellness Clinic, posted to social media last night, announced Dr Hong Nguyen would no longer be providing the health care options, effective immediately, with patients requiring those services urged to book with another doctor at the clinic.
It includes a range of reproductive health care services for all genders, including contraception (pill, implanon or otherwise), IVF, sterilisation, vasectomies and abortions.
“If you are booked in for any of the above, please contact our receptionist to reschedule you to another appropriate doctor,” the sign read.
Photos of the notice were posted to social media by state Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, both of whom told PEDESTRIAN.TV they were alerted to the notice by members of the public.
Thoughts? Doctor refuses to provide contraception and other sexual health services pic.twitter.com/ahy5fAHQhj— Fiona Patten MP (@FionaPattenMLC) January 29, 2020
“I was absolutely appalled,” Meddick told P.TV. “Reproductive services are part of the Australian health management system, patients should not be denied that right.”
“I feel first and foremost that a doctor should have a duty of care to their patient, they should put their religious views aside and not impose them on their patient,” Patten said.
The notice is the latest in a number popping up outside medical practices across the country in the past two months, said Meddick, which he says look remarkably similar.
“The wording on this flyer seems to be consistent with others I’ve seen posted around Victoria and indeed across the country,” Meddick said.
He said he had “no doubt whatsoever” that “it’s intimately connected” with the controversial Religious Freedom Bill, currently in its second draft.
“I have no problem with medical practitioners being people of faith, none whatsoever,” Meddick said. “A large part of our society follow faith. But medical practitioners fulfil a vastly different role in our soceity, they take an oath to provide the services that are required, without fear or favour, and reproductive services are part of that.”
Post by Meddick and Pattern sparked outrage on social media, prompting the clinic to shut down its Facebook page.
In response, the clinic issued a statement saying the outrage was nothing more than “misinformation”, and any suggestion it did not care for its patients was “defamatory and wrong”.
“Our community has many different religions, different personal views on Culture, Conduct, Political opinion from one side to the other. We try to navigate this by a diverse team which enables the freedom of choice to our patients for their GP,” the statement said.
“Our practice sits in the middle, a group of people who are medical practitioners, nurses and reception staff that together between all of us provides care to EVERYONE who needs it, regardless others beliefs, religion or political views or cultures. We are a diverse team that between us cares for everyone who uses our clinic.”
How is this connected to the Religious Discrimination Bill?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter released a second draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill in December last year, after masses of outcry at the first.
The bill says it provides so-called protection from religious discrimination, but in reality broadens the ability of people with religious beliefs to discriminate in other ways – for example, by refusing to provide contraception, or claiming “homosexuals are going to hell” on social media and not being fired for it. That’s right, it’s the Israel Folau bill. In fact, it was drafted after that whole mess went down last year.
Many of the key concerns around the bill are that medical professionals will be able to easily refuse treatment based on religious grounds, which not only puts patients at risk of not accessing care but disproportionately effects people in regional communities, young people who may not be able to access another doctor, or otherwise marginalised people.
“It appears to be trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” Dr Chris Moy of the Australian Medical Association told P.TV. “And as you can see, it also creates problems.”
It’s not actually illegal for a doctor to refuse treatment on the basis of religious beliefs. Doctors are able to refuse treatment on grounds of conscientious objection, particularly with ethically fraught issues such as euthanasia. However, doctors also have a duty of care to their patients.
“It’s a fine balance,” Dr Mov said.
“If you have conscientious objection, you must declare that up front, give some people the idea of the reasons why you have this deeply held belief,” he said. “You don’t just abandon your patients.”
The second draft of the Religious Discrimination Act tightened its definition of which medical professionals were able to conscientiously object, applying only to nurses, midwives, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists.
However, the AMA issued a statement today saying despite changes, the proposed legislation was both unnecessary and “may only ultimately act to create problems which have not previously existed, with the real potential for adverse impacts on patient care.”
If the legislation passes, it won’t only affect who or where you can seek basic healthcare from.
“I think [the notice] is a definite forewarning of what may occur if the so called Religious Freedom Bill is successfully passed,” Patten said.
“That is – where we draw the line on this? I we’re going to allow doctors this level of discrimination within their practice, who else will we allow that too? Will we allow teachers to pick and choose what they teach, will we allow restaurants to pick and choose who they serve? It this bill passes, that is absolutely the case.”