“If I see child abuse in Australia and I don’t report it, I can get into enormous trouble. If I see child abuse in Nauru and I do report it, I might go to prison for two years”.
This was how Professor David Isaacs, a NSW paediatrician, summed up the absurdity of the situation
as it applies to Australian doctors. This, of course, is only part of the law currently enforced, in our name, by the Australian government under the title of Operation Sovereign Borders.
These laws, in the words of World Medical Association president Dr Xavier Deau, are “in striking conflict with basic principles of medical ethics”. The irony is that it is happening in the same year as we award the Australian of the Year title to someone advocating for prevention of domestic violence. Worse still, it is happening in a country that
is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions.
Under them, of course, even prisoners of war have certain rights. One such right is protection from torture and abuse.
While statistics tell us that most of these so-called “illegal arrivals” are eventually deemed to be genuine refugees with legitimate reasons to seek asylum under international laws, treating them as our government does seems completely inhumane.
This has been eloquently documented by no less an independent official than the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Gillian Triggs. While this is not a place to write a political polemic, it is a place to write about the responsibilities of medical practitioners and the moral and humanistic values they are expected and, in fact, obliged to uphold.
The main issue here is that no matter what laws a government passes, we as doctors have obligations to certain universal principles that other professionals and groups of people are not always obliged to follow.
And these principles sometimes override any man-made laws.
One principle that doctors are collectively obliged to respect above all else is respect for human dignity.
This is the case even if the subjects are our enemies. This mere fact is sufficient for doctors to be exempted from the secrecy provisions in the Operation Sovereign Borders legislation.
While I am not hoping for miracles, I do hope that no doctors will be stopped from exposing any abuse of their patients, whether detainees or not, while also expected to do their jobs, under some laws that clearly clash with a doctor’s commonly accepted code of ethics.
It has been said that the worst thing we can do if we see evil is to do nothing about it.
The problem is the deafening silence of organisations that are expected to represent our collective values and obligations, if not our rights.
When the time comes for me to choose between becoming a whistleblower or going to prison, I am sure what path I will choose.
However, not every health care worker should face, so forcefully, such a dilemma.
- World Medical Association president Dr Xavier Deau and chair Dr Ardis Hoven,
Tony Marshal; 9 October 2015 ; Medical Observer
Tags: General Health; Asylum Seekers ;Psychiatry ;Government