Welcome to the Secular Medical Forum

The Secular Medical Forum campaigns for a secular approach to current major health issues.

We are opposed to religious influences in Medicine where these adversely affect the manner in which medical practice is performed. We campaign to protect patients from the harm caused by the imposition of religious values and activities on people who do not share the same values and beliefs.

The SMF directs itself to the improvement of the human condition. SMF members do not recognise the assumed authority of religious bodies and we challenge their traditional privileges in healthcare service provision or decision-making.

Membership of the Secular Medical Forum is open to all health care professionals in the UK and their respective students. Non health care professionals are welcome to join the SMF as associate members. Please contact Dr Antony Lempert at antony@secularmedicalforum.org.uk.

Latest News

Ritual circumcision in the courts, the dock and the lab

21 Apr 2016

When covered by the mainstream press, the forced genital cutting of (male) children, aka ritual circumcision, is more often than not considered from the perspective of angst-ridden parents debating whether or not to continue the ritual. Not so this week.

On Monday 18th April it was widely reported that the High Court had refused permission to the Muslim father of two young boys aged 4 and 6 who had wanted to perform the ritual on his sons against the wishes of his estranged wife, the boys’ mother.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-36074482

The following day it was reported in the Mirror http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/family-doctor-repeatedly-bungled-babys-7785711 that Dr Muhammad Chaudhary, a GP, was being investigated by the GMC after allegedly performing a botched circumcision on a child and bungling 2 or 3 further repair attempts. It is alleged that the GP even attempted to cover his tracks by offering the family bribes and by pretending to be the boy’s relative and his usual GP which he was not.

The same week, a press release from Queen’s University in Canada about recent research on adult penile sensitivity was widely reported as showing that infant circumcision does not reduce penile sensitivity. In fact, the research did not demonstrate this at all and even several of the authors’ own comments indicated quite the contrary conclusion.

Speaking about these three related stories, SMF chair, Dr Antony Lempert, made the following comments.
About the High Court judgment he said:
‘This judgement is a welcome small step towards safeguarding children from forced genital cutting. Ritual ‘circumcision is an irreversible surgical procedure’ as Mrs Justice Roberts so rightly said. More than that, it is a procedure that permanently removes healthy, erogenous and functional tissue from the most intimate part of a person’s body without that person’s consent and for no medical reason.

That it should take a parental disagreement in court for a child to be protected from forced genital cutting remains a serious concern from a child safeguarding perspective. When both parents are in complete agreement that they would like to surgically assign their child’s genitals with their own religious or cultural preferences a (male) child’s healthy intact genitals remain fair game in the UK.

Mrs Justice Roberts is absolutely right that children this young do not yet have the maturity and insight to make such a decision. This principle should not be a hostage to fortune based on the chosen religious beliefs of the child’s parents. It is therefore unfortunate that the judgement, in part, relied on the fact that early circumcision is not a requirement of Islam. The various so-called requirements and rituals of the different dogmas and creeds of the various subdivisions of the many religions should not be allowed to override a person’s most fundamental right to grow up with an intact body and to make their own choices about permanent bodily modifications.

All surgical interventions risks causing harm. The harms of childhood circumcision are increasingly well-documented and include haemorrhage, infection, severe scarring, erectile dysfunction, psychological problems and death. The common myth, repeated in the judgement, that infant circumcision is the least harmful of all circumcision types, is not supported by evidence. Many infants suffer serious life-threatening complications. And whilst infants are in no position to verbalise a complaint, many adult men who were forcibly cut as children are now verbalising their distress. Many of the men seek resolution, not through the courts or through further harm to others, but through taking action to prevent such serious harm being inflicted on the next generation.’

Dr Lempert said this about the case of the botched circumcision. He said:

‘This story is one that repeats itself with nauseating regularity. A healthy child is forced to have unnecessary surgery performed on his normal genitals and suffers significant harm over and above the removal of a sensitive, functional part of his penis. There are practically no restrictions on who can perform forced genital cutting on young (male) children in the UK. The procedure is almost wholly unregulated in the UK. The reality is that we simply don’t know the extent of harm caused to young children by ritual circumcision. We do know that many such children turn up in A&E and some need treatment in paediatric Intensive Care Units as a direct result of non-therapeutic circumcision.

Dr Chaudhary is being investigated because he is a doctor who is alleged to have behaved dishonestly. Ironically, should Dr Chaudhary be removed from the medical register, he would no longer be required to satisfy even the limited requirements of the GMC in this matter and would be free to continue cutting young boys’ genitals.’

In response to the Canadian research, Dr Lempert said:

‘The curiously misleading headline conclusion from this Canadian study into penile sensitivity would have you believe that neonatal circumcision (ie removal of the healthy foreskin from a baby for no medical reason) does not affect the sensitivity of the adult penis. But here are three direct quotes from the paper itself which appear to directly contradict the ‘conclusion': ‘Of all the genital sites tested, the foreskin was the most sensitive to tactile sensation stimuli…’, and this: ‘with respect to warmth sensation, the foreskin was more sensitive than the glans penis’ and this: ‘…the difference in warmth detection thresholds at the foreskin and glans penis indicates that the tissues may function differently…’.

The study had significant limitations, the conclusions even more. Only men under the age of 40 with a healthy, active sex life were studied, yet it is frequently older circumcised men who report gradually decreasing sensitivity from their exposed penis. Men unable to experience a healthy sex life as a direct result of their previous neonatal surgery were excluded from this research from the start. Being a part of the penis itself, removal of the foreskin necessarily removes that part of the penis that experiences foreskin sensitivity; this fundamental point seemed lost to the researchers. The most sensitive part of the foreskin, the inner mucosa, was not tested at all. And in statistical parlance, the researchers acknowledged that that the small size of the study didn’t have sufficient power to test most of the hypotheses it set out to examine.’

The medical ethicist Brian Earp has published an excellent critique of the study here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-earp/does-circumcision-reduce-_b_9743242.html

Overall, it is good news that two young boys have been given protection from forced genital cutting. It is good news that doctors who lie and perform botched surgery are investigated. But it is not good news that most boys born to religious parents in the UK remain wholly unprotected from forced genital cutting. It is not good news that there is no regulation of those who perform the cutting unless things go disastrously wrong. And it is not good news that uncritical media outlets, often fearful of upsetting powerful religious interests, regurgitate the same uncritical nonsense that forced genital cutting of (male) children doesn’t do them any harm- it does, frequently.

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Consultation Response: Equality in Developing Surgical Curricula

25 Feb 2016

On 12th February 2016, the SMF responded to the above consultation run by the four Royal Colleges of Surgeons.

Our full response is available in the Resources section of this website.

The SMF expressed particular concern where the expression of a doctor’s religious beliefs has a harmful impact on a patient who might not share those beliefs.
In the surgical setting, two such examples are:
i) where the refusal by a trainee to refer or perform an abortion obstructs a patient’s necessary treatment
ii) where the decision to operate on a healthy non-consenting child for religious reasons such as ear piercing or forced genital cutting results in non-therapeutic, non-consenting permanent bodily modification; this constitutes a violation of that person’s fundamental human rights.

Our experience has been that such human rights violations are frequently justified by some parents and some doctors as somehow ‘necessary’ to the expression of the child’s parent’s religious belief.

We recommend that:

-trainees be taught that the overriding principle is that there should be no exception to general ethical principles.

– colleges and curricula are not unduly influenced by considerations of religious dogma or acquiescence with religious privilege.

-the surgical curriculum should include teaching to trainees that they may encounter a few specific areas where children are submitted to surgical procedures, such as genital surgery, ear piercing etc. which are not medically required. Trainees should be encouraged to consider these matters from an open secular viewpoint and should be taught that requests or demands for exceptions from ethical principles and practice citing religious belief should be no more valid than for any other reason and that such practices are unethical.

We note that refusal by some surgeons to perform abortions can sometimes result in a disproportionate workload falling on those surgeons who do not (initially) conscientiously object. Whilst we support the principle of conscientious objection in those areas specified in law, we recommend that:

-appropriate safeguards are put in place to guarantee continuity of service provision irrespective of the religious beliefs of surgical trainees.

-where a surgical rotation includes such work, the onus should be on the applicant to ensure that they declare any unwillingness or conscientious objection during the application process.

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Secular doctors express concern that Medical Conscientious Objection bill lacks clarity and threatens the provision of patient care

18 Jun 2015

Secular doctors have today voiced serious concern about the Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) bill which had its first reading in the House of Lords on 4th June 2015. A serious failing of the proposed bill, they say, is that it lacks substantive detail about what constitutes ‘withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment’ – thus increasing the very confusion it seeks to ‘clarify’. A spokesman for the Secular Medical Forum said that the proposed bill would extend the rights of doctors and nurses to withdraw from providing treatment to some vulnerable patients who have different beliefs and values.
Conscientious objection rights for doctors and nurses are already statutorily defined. This bill seeks to expand those rights relating to abortion and to clarify those related to withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.
Dr Antony Lempert, a practising GP and chair of the Secular Medical Forum, said: ‘Conscientious objection to the active participation in the ending of someone’s life or performing an abortion is fairly uncontroversial. However, patients must not be left in a position whereby the doctor is abandoning them because they have chosen a particular reasonable, legal treatment option. Patients making informed treatment choices should be supported by healthcare professionals whether or not their beliefs and values are shared.’
He went on to say: ‘The risk is that granting doctors and nurses wider freedoms to withdraw from providing care, risks compromising the provision of care; this is something we have seen in other countries such as Italy where some patients have been unable to access abortion services.’
Dr Lempert expressed his concerns that the bill appears to undermine the Doogan and Wood Supreme Court judgment in December 2014. In this case, two midwives seeking an exemption from any abortion-related activity were advised that, whilst they did not need to participate in any aspect of the abortion itself, their professional responsibilities did extend to the wider roles such as supervision of nursing colleagues.
‘Doctors and nurses choose our professions; patients don’t choose to need our professional expertise’ he said. ‘Healthcare professionals should take responsibility for choosing a suitable role that will not bring their own beliefs into conflict with the care they are expected to provide to patients. Where there is conflict, doctors may need to set aside their own personal beliefs in order to provide care as specified in GMC guidance for doctors’.

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/conscientiousobjection.html

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130107105354/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsLegislation/DH_080205

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/87/section/4

https://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0124_Judgment.pdf

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UK parliament approves mitochondrial donation techniques despite religious opposition

21 Feb 2015

On 4th February 2015, the UK parliament passed a bill by 382 votes to 128 to legalise a form of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) pioneered in Newcastle using a third person’s genetic material to prevent serious inherited diseases. The novel technique of replacing faulty mitochondria with a donor’s healthy mitochondria will mean that affected parents will be able to conceive a healthy child who would otherwise have been affected and would have risked passing on the disease themselves. The technique uses healthy donor mitochondria to replace the faulty mitochondria.
During the debate, MPs were told that the risks were small but the benefits were enormous. The debate followed a public consultation, favourable scientific reviews by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and ethics approval by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The bill also had the backing of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.
Public health minister, Jane Ellison, told MPs that mitochondrial DNA made up only 0.054% of a person’s DNA and comprised none of the nuclear DNA that determines personal characteristics and traits. Despite the scientific support, vigorous opposition came from many religious organisations. Despite the bill being provisional on further safety checks and endorsement by the HFEA, some opponents challenged the potential safety and feared that the technique would be ‘playing God’. The bill was opposed by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales, the Islamic Medical Association UK and the Christian Medical Fellowship.
If the bill passes through the House of Lords, the UK would become the first country in the world to legalise the procedure.

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Joint SMF/NSS Response to draft NHS Chaplaincy guidelines 2014

21 Oct 2014

Joint SMF/NSS Response to draft NHS Chaplaincy guidelines 2014

This is a joint response on behalf of the National Secular Society and Secular Medical Forum.

Earlier this year, NHS England published draft NHS Chaplaincy guidelines. Despite being a public consultation, we are aware of no public consultation document. No information about the consultation has been made available on the NHS England consultation and engagement website.

Nevertheless, you can read the draft chaplaincy guideline document here. The Secular Medical Forum and the National Secular Society have published their joint response, and you can read the joint SMF/NSS response here.

 

The Secular Medical Forum (SMF) is a non-profit organisation run by volunteer healthcare professionals working to protect patients from the harm or disadvantage caused by the imposition on them of other people’s personal religious views. The SMF campaigns for equality of service delivery and employment within the NHS in terms of belief or religious affiliation.

The National Secular Society (NSS) is a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation founded in 1866, funded by its members and by donations. The NSS advocates separation of religion and state and promotes secularism as the best means to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and cohesively.

 

 

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6th Annual SMF ARM Welcome Reception (2014)

31 May 2014

All SMF supporters and their guests are warmly invited to the

6th Annual SMF BMA ARM Welcome Reception & meeting for reflection

 Harrogate 2014

Professor of Law at Leeds University, Professor Michael Thomson

will be reflecting on conscientious objection in healthcare:

OBJECTING TO CONSCIENCE:

Managing professional boundaries and difference

 

 Sunday 22nd June 2014

17:45 – 18:45

Harewood Suite
Syndicate Room 134
Majestic Hotel
Ripon Road
Harrogate HG1 2HU

Reception and complimentary drinks from 17:30

Finishing at 18:45 in time for the Chairman of RB’s welcome reception

Advance notice of intention to attend this free event would be appreciated

Contact: Dr Antony Lempert:

-via email: antony@secularmedicalforum.org.uk

-or telephone: 07967 837041

The Secular Medical Forum is a non-profit organisation campaigning to protect patients from the imposition of other people’s personal religious views.

Registered company no. 7237231

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Should infant circumcision no longer be permitted? Join the debate: Wed 16th Oct, 7.30pm in Oxford

13 Oct 2013

This Wednesday 16th October, SMF Chair Dr Antony Lempert will debate with the Jewish human rights barrister Adam Wagner on the topic: “This House believes non-therapeutic infant male circumcision should no longer be permitted” in Oxford at 7:30pm in The Wig and Pen on George Street.

https://www.facebook.com/events/601721856536788/

 

Adam Wagner debates Antony Lempert

 

The SMF encourages all to attend for what promises to be a lively and enlightening debate!

Dr Antony Lempert is a GP and Chair of the Secular Medical Forum and has debated on this topic previously, including with Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies. Adam Wagner is a barrister at 1 Crown Office Row chambers, and editor of the UK Human Rights blog.

The SMF is a not for profit organisation dedicated to protecting patients from the harmful imposition of doctors’ and other people’s personal religious beliefs. The SMF is run by volunteer healthcare professionals.

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Nordic children’s ombudsmen take historic step to protect children’s rights

03 Oct 2013

SMF PRESS RELEASE

Release Date: Tuesday 1st October 2013

At a meeting in Oslo, Norway, on Monday 30th September 2013, Nordic ombudsmen for children along with Nordic paediatricians and paediatric surgeons agreed on a resolution urging their national governments to work for a ban on non-therapeutic circumcision of underage boys.[i]

The children’s ombudsmen of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland along with the Chair of the Danish Children’s Council and the Children’s spokesperson for Greenland passed a resolution to: ‘Let boys decide for themselves whether they want to be circumcised’.

The ombudsmen concluded that: ‘Circumcision without a medical indication on a person unable to provide informed consent conflicts with basic principles of medical ethics’. They found the procedure ‘to be in conflict with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, articles 12, and 24 (3) which say that children should have the right to express their own views and must be protected from traditional rituals that may be harmful to their health.’

The UK Secular Medical Forum (SMF) applauds this historic resolution and urges the UK and devolved Governments to work towards protecting all UK children at risk of forced genital cutting.

Dr Antony Lempert, a GP, and SMF chair said: ‘This important statement by the Nordic child protection experts is grounded in common sense. Children’s basic rights to bodily integrity and to form their own beliefs should not be overridden because of their parents’ religious or cultural practices.’

Dr Lempert added: ‘With an increasing awareness of serious irreversible harm caused to boys and girls from forced genital cutting it is time for the genitals of all children to be protected from people with knives and strong religious or cultural beliefs. There can be no justification for healthy children to be forcibly cut. All children deserve society’s protection from serious harm.

 

END

The SMF is a not for profit organisation dedicated to protecting patients from the harmful imposition of doctors’ and other people’s personal religious beliefs. The SMF is run by volunteer healthcare professionals.

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