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Issue #1661      October 22, 2014

Refugee policy unethical for doctors

Doctors for Refugees have wholeheartedly endorsed the J’accuse petition presented on Monday October 20. “We have grave concerns for asylum seekers and refugees denied appropriate, timely health services and for Australian health professionals working in immigration detention centres. These doctors and nurses are bound by unfair and draconian contracts which deny health professionals the right to advocate for their patients and place the interests of their employer above their duties to their patients,” say Dr Barri Phatarfod and Dr Richard Kidd, cofounders of Doctors for Refugees.

“The overriding ethical obligation for doctors must always be to their patients.” The Medical Board of Australia has a Code of Conduct for doctors, which states “Doctors have a duty to make the care of patients their first concern and to practise medicine safely and effectively. They must be ethical and trustworthy”. Section 3.8.2 of the Code states “Being aware that increased advocacy may be necessary to ensure just access to healthcare.”

This is aligned with the Australian Medical Association Code of Ethics and is also consistent with the Declaration of Geneva and the International Code of Medical Ethics, issued by the World Medical Association.

This Code is fundamental to the regulatory environment health professionals work in, that is enacted by the Australian Health Professions Regulatory Authority (AHPRA).

The community trusts doctors and nurses will do “the right thing”.

“In the past, society has severely judged health professionals who have breached international law based on these ethical considerations. The Nuremberg trials highlighted that just doing what you are told to do is no defence when human rights are abused,” reflects Dr Barri Phatarfod.

This expectation has been reinforced in Australia with Mandatory Reporting Laws, which demand, under threat of penalties, that health professionals report their colleagues to AHPRA when they believe a colleague is behaving in ways that could cause harm to patients. “To be found in breach of these regulatory and ethical obligations may result in severe penalties including deregistration,” cautions Dr Richard Kidd.

More recently, in 2009, a new UN resolution was passed declaring: “States must never request or require anyone, including medical or other health personnel, to commit any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Doctors for Refugees urges the Immigration Minister to heed the voices of the medical communities and ensure the contracts respect and facilitate doctors’ regulatory and ethical obligation to make the care of patients their first concern and encourage them to advocate for asylum seekers and refugees and their children’s just access to healthcare.

Next article – We must help fight Ebola – Statement ANMF

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