Has the British Medical Association lost its moral compass?

30 September 2020

Dr Carys Moseley comments on decisions made by the British Medical Association to support transgender self-identification and vote in favour of dangerous DIY abortion.

This month, the British Medical Association made two deeply troubling moral decisions. First, it voted to support transgender self-identification, calling for healthcare to be aligned to this demand. Second, it voted in favour of DIY abortions. This arguably shows that the main trade union for doctors has lost its moral compass as far as basic medical ethics is concerned. As we shall see, the BMA’s votes came just before important announcements in these fields. The question now is how doctors will speak up on these issues.

Promoting confusion over real medical needs

The BMA put out the following statement:

“The BMA’s annual conference today has called on government to ensure the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals in accessing healthcare. These include enabling trans people to receive healthcare and access to gendered spaces in line with the gender they identify with.”

This was due to a motion that was brought by Northwest Regional Council. As the BMA is the trade union for doctors, this decision has enormous public significance.

The BMA also called for more ‘trans awareness’ in medical training. This basically means advocating trainee medical students and junior doctors to use transgender terminology and preferred pronouns. In practice it is likely to lead to talking as if women have male genitals, or men have babies.

“While the BMA has numerous policies affirming our support of LGBT individuals, [the agreement to this new policy means] that, for the first time in our history, we now have a BMA-wide policy giving specific attention to the needs of transgender and nonbinary individuals. Receiving any medical treatment can be stressful for patients and so it is important for individuals to receive healthcare in settings they feel comfortable with. This applies to transgender as well as cis individuals.”

Note how the language here is all about patients’ feelings, not their actual medical needs.

Putting women and children at risk

Doctors have a responsibility to their colleagues as well as to patients. By supporting transgender ideology, they are undermining sex-based dignity and rights in healthcare settings. This undermines the principle of ‘First, do no harm’ found in the Hippocratic Oath.

Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, had this to say about the matter:

“This decision displays an appalling lack of moral authority and a disregard for basic science. The BMA are betraying biological women who want their status and spaces protected. Medics should not want to promote self-identification of gender, sex, or any other medical or biological status. Will the BMA support self-identification of age or species? Future historians will marvel at the way medics have moved away from standing up for basic medical principles. Medicine can only be based on unwavering commitment to telling the truth, and the integrity of medicine will suffer as a result of this decision.”

Doctors also have a responsibility to child and adolescent patients. The judicial review against the Tavistock clinic’s use of puberty blockers is scheduled for 7-8 October this year. Medical experts from around the world have provided evidence to the court. In light of this, it really is completely inappropriate for the BMA to spout transgender ideology.

BMA backs DIY abortions

This is not the only troubling news to come out of the BMA recently. Its Annual Representative Meeting also voted in favour of home abortions using pills. Wendy Savage, a retired consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology had this to say:

“This change has benefited women. It is essential that the BMA supports the permanence of this change by all means possible.”

She said that as a result the percentage of abortions done at less than 10 weeks gestation had risen from 84% to 92%.

Other doctors present warned that the policy risked removing existing safeguards for women. Melody Redman, a trainee doctor specialising in clinical genetics made this observation:

“Face-to-face consultations allow appropriate clinical assessment and risk management. Remote services mean no ultrasound scanning, so no checking for ectopics, no qualification of gestation beyond a woman’s last menstrual period.”

Denial of risk to women and children

BMA medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm was hardly impartial on the matter. He claimed that the view that DIY abortions had harmed women was “based on misleading information.” The nature of this information was not specified on the BMA news page reporting this.

Chisholm was also reported as citing the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in his favour. The RCOG said that there was “no greater risk from ectopic pregnancies, no maternal deaths, and a very small number of problems with incorrect gestational age.” This view is contradicted by the evidence available.

Is the BMA going against the government on gender?

All this came just before the UK government announced it was scrapping its own proposals to make changing gender easier. The medical checks for gaining a Gender Recognition Certificate will remain. It is worth considering how this makes the BMA vote look. It looks as if doctors were trying to wash their hands of dealing with the medical problems involved in gender reassignment. Regardless of how hard or easy it is to change gender, there has never been a treatment protocol for people who regret gender reassignment. This is something doctors should be drawing up. When is the BMA going to speak up on this issue?

Perhaps the second major announcement on transgender policy will force the BMA to consider these problems. The reason is that last week it was also announced that there would be an independent review into NHS gender identity services for children and adolescents. The review will be led by Dr Hilary Cass OBE, the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It is inevitable that this review will have to address the problem of young people regretting gender reassignment.

DIY abortion ruling to be appealed at the Supreme Court

Christian Concern recently brought a judicial review against the government for allowing DIY abortions. A witness statement had been submitted from Kevin Duffy, formerly the global clinics director at Marie Stopes International revealing an email detailing the risks to NHS staff. The judge refused the evidence that DIY abortion had resulted in maternal deaths. This is really quite something when we realise that the email discussed concerns coming from the Care Quality Commission.

The email also revealed that in one NHS region there was a murder investigation due to concern that the baby was born alive. The post-mortem examination was being conducted by a Home Office pathologist. Finally, last week judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that DIY abortions were lawful. In response to this dismissive approach, Christian Concern will take the case to the Supreme Court. It will be worth watching how the BMA and other medical organisations handle public debate over DIY abortions.

Can the BMA help conscientious doctors?

The BMA is the trade union for doctors, as well as the main professional association for them. Unfortunately, in voting the way it did this month the BMA has undermined the role of doctors. Doctors have to be able to tell the truth about patients and the human body to do their job properly. They should also not be supporting abortion, especially where safeguards have been removed. Allowing a culture which promotes confusion about biological sex to the point where doctors will have to lie, and a culture of killing the unborn undermines the integrity of doctors and the medical profession.

Doctors also must be free to work according to their conscience. A trade union that violates clear conscientious objection to abortion and gender reassignment in any form is not trustworthy. Trade unions are supposed to help employees in disputes where they have been unfairly treated. Telling the truth and upholding lives is absolutely central to any employment dispute.

Freedom to practice true medicine

Conscientious doctors do not want to participate in any practices or procedures that are contrary to medicine. They should be free to refuse to prescribe cross-sex hormones for patients. GPs whose patients tell them they have gender dysphoria should be free to inquire into their mental health, not just have to refer them to gender identity clinics.

By the same token, conscientious doctors need to feel free to stand up much more to abortion and the negative effects of the DIY abortions policy. It will be important to see how doctors and other medical organisations speak publicly on abortion in light of the current policy.

Doctors’ responsibility to the public

Conscientious doctors have a huge responsibility to speak and act conscientiously, wisely, decisively and in unity because they have a duty to treat members of the public. Doctors have no right not to speak and act on these issues. The public needs urgent reassurance from doctors that they will not play along with practices that are contrary to medicine. It also needs urgent reassurance from doctors that they will always tell the truth about biological sex and never lie about it. The integrity of medicine and healthcare lies in the balance.

Find out more about DIY abortions
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