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

17 Apr 2013

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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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