Archive for June, 2012

SMF response to German court ruling that ritual circumcision is an assault.

PRESS RELEASE: For immediate release 27th June 2012: no embargo

The Secular Medical Forum (SMF) applauds the decision taken this week in the German courts that ‘a child’s right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights’ following a circumcision operation on a young boy for no medical reason that led to medical complications. That religious pressure groups have challenged the ruling despite the known medical complications demonstrates unwillingness by members of those religious groups to place the safety of children above religious interests.

Where the child is not endangered, members of the SMF are not opposed to parents raising their children in accordance with their own values and beliefs. However, all children deserve to be safeguarded from non-accidental injury whatever the beliefs of their parents. Children must not be restricted from making their own choices when they are old enough to do so. Irreversible, non-therapeutic surgery, particularly on their most intimate body parts, denies people a choice and often causes significant harm. The SMF rejects any exception to the existing principle that a child’s body belongs to the child and later the adult, and that parents have responsibilities to protect the children in their care from all forms of serious avoidable harm.

A significant number of children suffer severe, life-threatening complications from a circumcision; an operation that has no medical, scientific or ethical basis. All children deserve to be safeguarded; society must not abandon them to ancient cultural rituals. It is likely that many parents requesting ritual circumcisions would reconsider their request if they were given the full facts as to the extent of immediate and long-term harms this operation can cause.

The SMF is disappointed that two motions on the agenda of the annual representatives’ body meeting of the BMA this week calling for all children to be protected from this harm have not been debated. We call on the Government and the BMA to issue clear guidance that the unnecessary cutting of a child’s genitals is a practice no longer to be tolerated in modern society.

For further comment please contact Dr Antony Lempert SMF chair:

The Secular Medical Forum is a non-profit company limited by guarantee working to protect patients from the harm caused by the imposition of other people’s personal religious beliefs. Members of the SMF do not recognise assumed religious authority and challenge religious privilege in terms of decision-making and medical practice.

News links:

BBC: German court rules circumcision is ‘bodily harm’

New Humanist: Clash over religious freedom in Germany as Cologne court ruling outlaws circumcision

The Jerusalem Post: Germany must pass law to protect circumcision

University of Oxford: “Religion” is no excuse for mutilating your baby’s penis


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Discussion about about assisted dying hosted by SMF

The Secular Medical Forum will host a meeting for reflection and debate about assisted dying at the start of the forthcoming British Medical Association’s Annual Representatives Meeting in Bournemouth.

The SMF hosts an annual meeting during the BMA conference to provide a secular alternative for delegates who do not wish to attend the faith-oriented Reflection & Thanksgiving service which the BMA organises and funds.

Previous speakers at the SMF event include Simon Singh and Peter Wilmshurst.

This year’s SMF meeting features Professor Raymond Tallis, chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, and Baroness Ilora Finlay, Professor of Palliative Medicine.   There will debate assisted suicide.

The SMF meeting starts at 17:30 on Sunday 24th June at the De Vere Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth (BH1 2EW).  There will be the opportunity to find out more about the Secular Medical Forum and to talk with SMF representatives after the talk.

Admission is free and open to all but space is limited. Please email Dr Antony Lempert if you would like to attend:

Within the SMF, individual members hold a range of views about assisted dying.  All are agreed that religious privilege should have no place in the decision-making process and that excellent palliative care should not suffer as a result of any change in the legislation. You can read the SMF postion on assited dying here


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SMF & NSS response to GMC consultation on personal beliefs 2012

The Secular Medical Forum and the National Secular Society made a joint response to the General Medical Council’s consultation on personal beliefs in medical practice:

SMF and NSS joint response to GMC consultation on personal beliefs and medical practice 11 June 2012



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GMC formally warns Dr Scott for evangelising a patient

GMC formally warns Dr Scott for evangelising a patient

We welcome the GMC’s determination making it clear that doctors – whether religious or not – must set aside their own personal beliefs and not evangelise when treating patients, far less suggest that they adopt a different belief. Doing so needlessly puts patients in a difficult position.

There is no reliable evidence that any belief system has benefited health. Basing treatment on this premise is therefore potentially harmful to the patient and to the doctor-patient relationship.

Patients consult their doctors for their professional expertise and not for their doctor’s religious beliefs. For GPs to share their own religious beliefs during consultations is almost always inappropriate; attempts to proselytise or to claim one or other religion as somehow better than another is unprofessional and should never take place. Doing so puts often vulnerable patients into the uncomfortable position of feeling the need to take account of their doctor’s beliefs. Some patients may feel unable or unwilling to contradict the doctor because of the power imbalance between doctor and patient. Should a patient raise religious matters during a consultation, the doctor must not take this as an opportunity to evangelise, but if appropriate may explore the patient’s own ideas and concerns.

The allegation made by Dr Scott that the GMC has specifically targeted Christianity is perverse. The GMC and many members of the public have been given great cause for concern by the unfounded claims that Dr Scott has made to this patient, and has admitted he has made to thousands more. We would fully expect the GMC to take similar action against doctors of all faiths or none who behaved in a similarly inappropriate fashion and who risked undermining the confidence of the public in the professionalism of medical practitioners.

We also oppose publicly-funded NHS General Practices being labelled as being of any religion or belief. Labelling General Practices as being of any one belief system risks giving patients the impression that only such patients will be welcomed, and that other patients are, at best, tolerated. This puts unacceptable pressure on some patients to decide whether to actively opt out of spiritual care, as they are invited to do in Dr Scott’s practice, or go along with the religious element for fear of alienation. Forcing such a dilemma on patients undermines the doctor-patient relationship – a relationship based primarily on trust. Particularly where there is a limited choice of GPs, this compromises patients’ entitlement to publicly-funded medical treatment.


GMC Statement


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