Archive for April, 2013

Secular doctors call on the GMC to revise guidance that gives green light to religious doctors to obstruct patient care

Secular Medical Forum, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL – Registered Company No. 7237231


PRESS RELEASE, 17 April 2013 (No embargo)

Secular doctors call on the GMC to revise guidance that gives green light to religious doctors to obstruct patient care.

Secular doctors called on the GMC urgently to revise guidance on personal belief and medical practice[i], effective from 22 April 2013 that allows religious doctors ‘to opt out of providing a particular procedure because of (the doctor’s) beliefs and values…’[ii]

‘The new guidance gives unrestrained freedom to religious doctors to refuse to provide the most appropriate treatment options’, says Dr Lempert, a GP, and chair of the Secular Medical Forum’ (SMF).

‘The guidance also contradicts existing BMA policy[iii] that the right of doctors to refuse to treat patients for reasons of conscientious objection ‘should be restricted to those protected in law and to withdrawing life-sustaining treatment…’

‘Patients must not be placed at a disadvantage by their doctor’s personal beliefs’ said Dr Lempert. Patients should be able to rely on their doctor’s professional expertise not being compromised by his/her religious beliefs. It is not in patients’ best interests to allow wholesale religious exemptions to the provision of standard medical care’

‘The new guidance fails to limit conscientious objection to the areas such as abortion[iv] that are narrowly defined by legislation, making way for a potentially open-ended refusal to provide medical care on religious grounds. As a result, patients will be left vulnerable to the personal whims of their doctor.’

The Secular Medical Forum criticised the new guidance which recommends that doctors ‘must do (their) best to make sure that patients are aware of (their) objection in advance.’[v] The SMF is concerned that this places an unreasonable onus of responsibility on patients to investigate in advance their doctor’s personal views.

Dr Lempert commented: ‘The GMC should remind doctors of the professional responsibilities which accompany the privilege of their chosen profession. Patients cannot always choose to see a doctor of their choice; so the guidelines should make clear that patients’ best interests and reasonable treatment options should never be restricted because of conflict with the doctor’s own personal beliefs, except where prescribed by law.’



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

For further comment and information, contact SMF chair Dr Antony Lempert

by email

or telephone: 07967 837041


[iii] Motion passed at BMA ARM 2008

[iv] Section 4(1) of the 1967 Abortion Act

[v]  para 10


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SMF meeting at the BMA ARM 2013. Prof Edzard Ernst: Alternative medicine: Facts and fallacies

Edzard Ernst will be speaking at the SMF Welcome Reception at the BMA ARM 2013All BMA attendees at the Bristish Medical Association’s ARM are warmly invited to join Edzard Ernst who will be reflecting on his work as Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine.

This will be the fifth welcome reception that the SMF has hosted at the ARM.  Professor Ernst’s talk is titled Alternative Medicine: Facts and Fallacies.  The reception will start at 17:30 on Sunday 23rd June in the Stirling Suite, Sheraton Grand Hotel, 1 Festival Square, Edinburgh, EH3 9SR.  Attendance is free and a complimenary refreshment is offered.  Notice of your intention to attend would be apprciated – please email Dr Antony Lempert:

SMF flyer for BMA ARM 2013 

The Secular Medical Forum hosts these events as an alternative to the BMA’s religiously themed session for thanksgiving.  The SMF welcomes attendance from those of all faiths and none.




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Secular doctors fear that new GMC guidance will fail to protect children and is probably in conflict with the Equality Act.

Secular doctors say new GMC guidance on personal belief and medical practice[i] effective from April 22nd will expose some children to serious harm. Referring to ritual male circumcision, doctors are now instructed that they ‘must include parents’ religious beliefs’[ii] when assessing the child’s best interests. Secular doctors are dismayed that the guidance will support doctors who defer to parents’ insistence that it is in a healthy child’s best interests to undergo forced genital cutting for no medical reason.

Dr Lempert, a GP and chair of the Secular Medical Forum, said: ‘This new guidance conflicts with international medical consensus. Senior representatives of European paediatric associations, including the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons, recently stated[iii] that circumcision ‘constitutes a violation of the UN convention on the rights of the child’ and can have ‘serious long-term consequences’.’

‘The GMC is failing to protect children by not distinguishing between reasonable decisions necessarily made by parents on behalf of children in need of medical care, and parental requests to surgically impose their own religious beliefs on the healthy body of a child unable to give consent.’

‘The guidelines support doctors who collude with parents seeking circumcision for non-medical reasons. Proper child safeguarding procedures should be followed when a parent seeks forced cutting of their child’s genitals. That parents have voluntarily chosen to follow a religion for which circumcision is an obligation is not a sufficient reason to permit the child to be harmed in this way and should form no part of GMC guidance to doctors.’

‘The SMF considers this GMC exception to child safeguarding only for male children subject to forced genital cutting to be of serious concern. According to legal advice received by the SMF, the new guidance incites doctors to breach the 2010 Equality Act.

‘The SMF is shocked that if both parents refuse what is considered to be the most appropriate treatment for their child, doctors are now told to ‘look for treatment options that will accommodate’ their (parents’) beliefs.’[iv] Using less effective treatments will rarely be in the best interests of a child.

‘The SMF calls on the GMC to instruct doctors that the interests and safety of a child must not be overridden by the religious or cultural beliefs of parents. Doctors should be advised that they must not cut into the normal genitalia of a child under any circumstances.’


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