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

SMF Chair debates circumcision with Jonathan Arkush

30 Jul 2013

PRESS RELEASE – 30 July 2013 (No embargo)

At a debate organised by the UCLU Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society on 28 February 2013, the chair of the Secular Medical Forum, Dr Antony Lempert, debated the topic of circumcision with Jonathan Arkush, Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

It is a Jewish tradition to cut off the foreskin of baby boys when they are eight days old.  This operation was described by the Royal Dutch Medical Association as ‘a violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity’ and it was recently declared unlawful by a district court in Cologne. While discussing the case which led to the Cologne court’s decision, Mr Arkush said:

“incidentally two world rulers in modern times who sought to ban circumcision were Hitler and Stalin, so that’s the company you are in if you seek to ban it”

The Secular Medical Forum found this an unhelpful comment. Many individuals working in the field of child protection – though not world rulers – are also seeking a ban on this medically unnecessary operation on non-consenting babies, and they would be offended by any potential association with Hitler or Stalin. Dr Lempert, who is also the GP representative member of a Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, responded by saying that he abhors anti-semitism and explained that anti-semitism is happening when well-meaning people fail to protect children of Jewish parents from the harm caused by ritual circumcision.

The full debate is available here.

In March 2013 the SMF posted the original text of this press release, including the statement that Mr Arkush “compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler.” The SMF now retracts this statement and has apologised to Mr Arkush for the allegation that he compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler. In fact, we may only conclude from Mr Arkush’s quote that he was associating those who sought to ban circumcision, rather than those who oppose circumcision, with Hitler and Stalin. As mentioned above, the SMF nevertheless finds this an unhelpful contribution to the debate. Those who allege that campaigners against ritual childhood circumcision are being anti-semitic (or invoke the spectre of Nazi Germany) are directed to members and groups of the very same religions who themselves want to see an end to the practice. The SMF is aware of Jewish groups who are against the practice of circumcision. There are several practising Jewish parents who do not circumcise their boys and have explained in detail why. Peaceful alternatives to the naming ceremony are also in use by several rabbis.

The SMF works to protect all people from the imposition of other people’s beliefs in medicine.  The SMF supports freedom of religion, alongside freedom from religion, especially for children. The SMF campaigns against all forms of ritual genital cutting and campaigns for a safer world where children can grow up with an intact body and can make their own decisions later in life.  The SMF is a non-profit campaign organisation run by volunteers for the protection of patients.

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SMF challenges Ed Miliband’s naive support for ritual circumcision

24 Jul 2013

PRESS RELEASE – 24 July 2013 (No embargo)

 

On 7 March 2013, Ed Miliband told an audience in London that he supports ritual genital cutting of children.  In reference to circumcision and kosher food, the leader of the Labour party said:

“These are important traditions … Ways of life must be preserved.”

The Secular Medical Forum condemns this announcement and asks Mr Miliband to rethink his support for ritual genital cutting.

It is a Jewish tradition to cut off the foreskin of baby boys when they are eight days old.  This operation was described by the Royal Dutch Medical Association as a ‘violation of children’s rights to autonomy and physical integrity’ and it was recently declared unlawful by a district court in Cologne. The Secular Medical Forum questions why Mr Miliband supports ritual circumcision, given that it exposes the child to significant risks including bleeding, infection and death.

The Secular Medical Forum calls on Mr Miliband to prioritise the rights of children over harmful religious traditions. He should not be misled by misplaced allegations of anti-semitism against those striving to protect children from harm. Indeed, it is those who would permit circumcision of children of Jewish parents who are failing to guarantee them the protection otherwise afforded to gentile children. These children should not be denied the safeguarding afforded by ethical principles and practice which have already outlawed any other permanent, medically unnecessary surgery on non-consenting minors. Supporters of ritual genital cutting, including Mr Miliband, should not attempt to preserve a way of life at the expense of the genital integrity of a child who is too young to give consent to the operation.

The SMF works to protect all people from the imposition of other people’s beliefs in medicine.  The SMF supports freedom of religion, alongside freedom from religion, especially for children. The SMF campaigns against all forms of ritual genital cutting and campaigns for a safer world where children can grow up with an intact body and can make their own decisions later in life.  The SMF is a non-profit campaign organisation run by volunteers for the protection of patients.

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Hospital chaplains largely unaffected by cuts to NHS frontline services

27 Jun 2013

The National Secular Society has gathered data via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which demonstrate that hospital chaplaincy services have been largely spared from the cuts to NHS frontline services. Read their full article here or download their interim results.

The Secular Medical Forum opposes taxpayer funding of chaplains where they are recruited on the basis of their religious belief. Read our full statement on this issue.

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

17 Apr 2013

Secular Medical Forum, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL
http://www.secularmedicalforum.org.uk – 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.’

 

END

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 antony@secularmedicalforum.org.uk

or telephone: 07967 837041

 


[iii] Motion passed at BMA ARM 2008

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

[v] http://www.gmc-uk.org/Personal_beliefs_and_medical_practice.pdf_51462245.pdf  para 10

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

07 Apr 2013

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: Antony@SecularMedicalForum.org.uk

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.

02 Apr 2013

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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SMF response to updated GMC guidance 2013

26 Mar 2013

SMF Press Release

For release Tuesday 26th March 2013

The Secular Medical Forum is a not for profit organisation dedicated to protecting patients from the harmful imposition on them of doctors’ personal religious beliefs.

The SMF is available for further comment and information.

Please contact Dr Antony Lempert SMF chair

antony@secularmedicalforum.org.uk

Tel: 07967 837041

The SMF is responding to two sections of the updated GMC guidance for medical practitioners released Monday 25th March 2013. The guidance on Good Medical Practice[i] and on Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice[ii] will both come into effect on 22nd April 2013.

The SMF welcomes the broad direction of the updated GMC guidance. The GMC rightly advises doctors that they must not impose their own personal beliefs on patients. The new guidance goes some way towards helping to prevent religious doctors from obstructing the reasonable treatment options of patients by virtue of the doctor’s own personal beliefs. However, it ultimately falls far short of the intended outcome of protecting patients, is contradictory, and signally fails to protect some of the most vulnerable people. It may also be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act referenced in the guidance.

Patients must feel confident that they can rely on their doctor’s professional expertise and advice, and that, excepting specific legislation, the patient’s own personal beliefs and values will guide treatment options rather than the religious beliefs of their doctor. The SMF is therefore disappointed that the new GMC guidance empowers doctors to conscientiously object to providing medical services which would ordinarily form an integral part of a doctor’s professional responsibilities. This concession for doctors comes at the expense of patient care which the GMC states should be the doctor’s first concern.

Within the new guidance, doctors with religious objections to providing certain treatments are advised to advertise their objections in advance. Confusingly, the GMC simultaneously exhorts doctors not to initiate discussion of their personal beliefs. Moreover, the risk is that the GMC will be seen to be placing an unreasonable onus of responsibility on patients to investigate in advance their doctor’s personal views.

Particularly in the case of urgent care such as emergency contraception it is inevitable that some patients will be denied appropriate medical care because of the personal religious beliefs of a doctor. The SMF is disappointed that the GMC did not take the opportunity to remind doctors of their professional responsibilities to ‘set aside their own personal beliefs where necessary in the interests of their patients’.

The GMC is right to place an emphasis on personal choice with regard to treatment choice or refusal. But when the person making the choice is not the person refusing necessary treatment, the GMC might follow its own excellent guidance in ‘Protecting Children and Young People’, GMC guidance published 3rd September 2012[iii], which reminds doctors that ‘it may be difficult to identify where parents’ freedom to bring up their children in line with their religious and cultural practices and beliefs becomes a cause for concern about a child’s or young person’s physical or emotional well-being’.

Instead and of significant concern to the SMF, the new guidance appears to indicate that if both parents refuse, on the grounds of their own belief, what is considered to be the best or most appropriate treatment, then other perhaps less effective treatment options should be considered for a child instead. This will rarely be in the best interests of a child.

The SMF endorses GMC advice to ‘provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence’ and to ‘treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity and privacy’. However, we note that the new GMC guidance will fail to deliver this promise and will continue to fail in its statutory responsibilities to protect vulnerable people, particularly children, from serious avoidable harm caused by registered medical practitioners.

Dr Antony Lempert, a GP and the chair of the SMF said: ‘The GMC seems peculiarly unable to distinguish between reasonable therapeutic decisions necessarily made by parents on behalf of children requiring medical care, and parental requests to surgically impose their own beliefs on the normal bodies of a child who has yet to form a belief. Serious harm that would ordinarily lead to child safeguarding procedures and possibly criminal prosecution, such as the forced cutting of a child’s body for no therapeutic purpose are instead excused by the GMC on the basis that parents have chosen to follow one or other religious belief system and that the parents then claim that cutting the child’s body is a central tenet of that belief’.

The GMC must know that parents do not have the right to consent to harmful interventions on their children. Parents and doctors have a duty to protect children from all forms of serious avoidable harm. It is legislated[iv] that it cannot be in the best interests of a female child to cut her genitals for no therapeutic purpose. No medical body in the world actively recommends forced infant genital cutting on any child. On the contrary, an article released last week by Frisch et al in the American journal Pediatrics[v] stated that ‘circumcision fails to meet the commonly accepted criteria for the justification of preventive medical procedures in children’, that it ‘constitutes a violation of the UN convention on the rights of the child’ and can have ‘serious long-term consequences’. The 38 authors from 18 countries included senior representatives of the German Pediatric Association, the Royal Dutch Medical Association and the British Association of Paediatric surgeons amongst others.

It is unlawful under the Equalities Act 2010 to discriminate unfairly on the grounds of gender. The SMF calls on the GMC to amend this new policy on forced infant and child genital cutting which adversely discriminates against male children. The main body of GMC guidance places the healthcare needs, dignity and integrity of the patient as of primary concern. The tenets of a religious belief held by somebody other than the patient can never be sufficient reason to justify the forced removal of intimate parts of a patient’s body.

END

For further comment

Contact SMF chair Dr Antony Lempert

antony@secularmedicalforum.org.uk

Tel: 07967 837041

Clinical responsibilities may preclude immediate reply.


[iv] Section 1(5) 2003 FGM Act

[v] Pediatrics Vol 131 (4) April 2013

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New Year 2013 – Thank you for all the support in 2012

02 Jan 2013

In 2012, many have contributed to the protection of patients from imposed religious harm.

Thanks are due:

-To the Falconer Commission for reviewing the evidence and publishing its independent conclusion that the current law on assisted dying is inadequate and incoherent.

– To the GMC for not being intimidated by the Christian Legal Centre into dropping the investigation against Dr Richard Scott, the proselytising GP who told his distressed patient that ‘the Devil haunts those who don’t turn to Jesus’.

– To the BBC for daring to air 2 Sunday morning discussions about ritual male circumcision.

– To the National Secular Society for their continued huge support.

– To the International Humanist and Ethical Union for submitting a detailed document to both the UN human rights council and the UN committee on the Rights of the child and for asking questions of the UN about religious child maltreatment.

– To the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice for ruling that anti-abortion campaigners should no longer be permitted to mislead vulnerable women in their advertising.

– To Everyone who responded to GMC consultations this year.

– To all SMF-associated organisations and individuals working hard to protect individual people from variants on a theme of religiously-inspired harm.

– To Individual members of the SMF who have written articles, or posted relevant stories on twitter, Facebook or blogs.

We have made some good progress so far, yet still there are regular stories in the UK and abroad of people being harmed by religious interference or of people being prevented from accessing the reasonable care or treatment they could reasonably expect, because of religious interference.

In 2012 these people have included:

Kristy Bamu, tortured to death by relatives after being accused of demon possession.

Angelo Ofori-Mintah, a 28 day old baby who bled to death in London in February within 48 hours of a rabbi inflicting a mortal wound on his normal infant penis.

Malala Yousafzai, a 14y/o Pakistani schoolgirl activist for women’s rights and education brought to the UK in September after she was shot in the head and neck by those who accused her of ‘promoting secularism’.

Tony Nicklinson, a man desperate to be helped to die painlessly after years of locked-in syndrome, but forced eventually to starve himself to death within a week of the High Court ruling that only parliament could legislate for assisted dying. The last parliamentary attempt to introduce such a law was frustrated by the protestant bishops privileged with 26 automatic seats in the House of Lords.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31y/o non-Catholic dentist who died in Ireland after being refused a potentially life-saving abortion by health care professionals who told her that Ireland was ‘a Catholic country’

They and many more like them suffered because of a religious belief they didn’t hold.

Increasingly, traditional deference to religion is being challenged both by changes in public opinion in response to recurrent stories of religiously-inspired harm and by each one of us when we speak out and give a name to religious harm.

Thank you to every one of you who has engaged in debate, or discussed, tweeted, emailed or written to challenge one or other of the many faces of religious harm in medicine: from homophobic sexual orientation conversion efforts, through NHS ring-fenced chaplaincy money for the religious, to religious bishops obstructing parliamentary legislation, to the forced religiously-inspired cutting of children’s genitalia, to proselytising vulnerable patients, to the religious obstruction of access to reproductive health care services.

What is remarkable is that we are still having to work towards a world in which the religious beliefs of a doctor or nurse do not subvert and frustrate the reasonable human  rights, needs or beliefs of other people.

With our continued and combined efforts, we are on track to continue the excellent progress we have made so far.

You can follow the SMF on twitter: @SecularMedForum

and on facebook:  Secular Medical Forum

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