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Medical guidelines may create an ‘atmosphere of fear’, says bishop

Bishop Williams urges doctors to respond to a consultation about the guidelines (PA photo)

Bishop Tom Williams, auxiliary bishop of Liverpool, has criticised draft guidance by the General Medical Council (GMC) on the role of belief in medical practice.

The bishop, chairman of the bishops’ conference Healthcare Reference Group, said he would “strongly encourage Catholic doctors who work in the health service, and all those who have an interest as patients, carers or potential patients” to respond to a consultation on the draft.

The guidance, entitled “Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice”, was issued last month and is subject to consultation.

Bishop Williams said: “The draft consultation document does not have a balanced or positive appreciation of the value of religion for patients or for the importance of requiring, and hence permitting, doctors to make conscientious ethical decisions. Both religion and conscientious objection seem to be treated as problems to be minimised and circumscribed as much as possible. However, this attitude is incompatible with respect for the religious beliefs of patients and with a commitment to their best interests.”

He also spoke of an “atmosphere of fear” in which doctors were scared of expressing religious belief to patients.

Dr Pravin Thevathasan of the Catholic Medical Quarterly said: “Just and unjust forms of discrimination ought to be carefully distinguished. For example, it may be entirely just not to medically assist two individuals who want to become parents. This may be because of their self-destructive behaviours. The autonomy and skills of the clinician ought to be respected as ought the autonomy of the patient.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We know that personal beliefs are central to the lives of many doctors and patients. Our draft guidance seeks to balance doctors’ desire to practise medicine in line with their own personal beliefs, whilst ensuring that they are providing patients access to appropriate medical treatment and services.”

Catholics can read how to respond to the consultation here. The consultation period ends on June 13.