July 5, 2022

Controversial guidelines for UK doctors

The General Medical Council, the UK body which registers and disciplines doctors, is proposing controversial amendments to its guidelines for good patient care. A proposed draft, released this week, declares that doctors may not even refuse requests for sex-change surgery.

The General Medical Council, the UK body which registers and disciplines doctors, is proposing controversial amendments to its guidelines for good patient care. A proposed draft, released this week, declares that doctors may not even refuse requests for sex-change surgery.

The new guidelines stipulate that unless conscientious objectors are protected by law – British doctors have the right to refuse to participate in abortions – they may not refuse access to “appropriate” services or cause “distress” to patients. “We expect doctors to be prepared to set aside their personal beliefs so they can provide effective patient care in line with Good Medical Practice,” says the GMC.

It would be possible to opt out of providing particular service, but never for a particular patient or class of patients. In fact, the GMC specifically exempts sex-change surgery from conscientious objection because “this procedure is only sought by a particular group of patients.” A refusnik would breach the UK’s 2010 Equality Act which forbids discrimination after gender reassignment.

Furthermore, although a doctor could refuse to prescribe contraceptives, he cannot do this for married women and not for unmarried women. “This would be a breach of our guidance as you would be refusing to treat a particular group of patients (unmarried women) rather than refusing to provide a particular treatment (contraceptive medication).” It would also breach the Equality Act.

Dr Peter Saunders, of Christian Medical Comment, says that the guidelines will “marginalise Christian health professionals in Britain”. Some could even be deregistered if they follow their consciences.

“The problem is that 21st century British medicine now involves practices which many doctors regard as unethical. This latest guidance by the GMC will therefore be seen by a many as a further attack on the right to practise independently in accordance with one’s conscience which lies at the heart of being a true health professional. I suspect it will also further undermine the credibility of the GMC.”

Michael Cook
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conscientious objection