Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Trust me...

“If you only trust the TV and the radio; these days you can’t see who’s in cahoots; ‘cos the KKKwears three-piece suits”- Rebirth, Public Enemy

Trust is an integral part of health care delivery. In fact, doctors are consistently rated amongst the most trusted professionals in public opinion polls. So consider the prospect of your local doctor being part of a group who wore sheets on their heads and preached racial intolerance? Unacceptable? Clearly. But what if a group with similar levels of intolerance called themselves ‘doctors for the family’ and chose to hide in plain sight?

The Klu Klux Klan (KKK) almost seems to belong to a different era. It was in 1991 that hip-hop group ‘Public Enemy’ referred to KKK philosophy infiltrating mainstream elite society in America.(1) Sadly, this prophecy was already a reality in various communities around the world.

In the early 1990’s in Australia, the KKK lacked a public presence but racial prejudice still had a very public profile. In 1995, an AFL player reported being called a ‘nigger’ in the national competition (the sports highest level).(2) And in 1996, Collingwood player Damien Monkhorst publicly apologized to Essendon player Michael Long for calling him a ‘black bastard.’

In September 1996(3), racial intolerance gained a very public endorsement from none other than a politician addressing the parliament. It was an insidious, damaging and reprehensible speech that gained notoriety through the normalization of bigotry. No longer easily identifiable by choice of costume, intolerance had become widespread.

Fast forward to 2012. Racial prejudice still occurs but is frowned upon in social and sporting circles alike. Intolerance prospers however, in many different forms. 

A group of medical doctors (called ‘doctors for the family’) decided to publicize their intolerance of homosexuality in a recent submission to parliament. Unacceptable? Clearly. Yet the group of doctors who signed the petition to parliament have not been subject to investigation by an ethical standards committee. Unsurprisingly, no sporting star was vilified in the ‘doctors for the family’ submission to parliament on the basis of their sexual preference.

One of the roles of the medical board of Australia is to uphold the ethical standards of the profession. When a medical doctor strays beyond the boundary of a guideline and beyond the boundary of acceptable behavior its labeled professional misconduct. As follows:

Placing the public at risk of harm because of practice in a way that constitutes a significant departure from accepted professional standards (s.140(d))

Surely, there is no greater example of professional misconduct than using your status to perpetuate and incite intolerance – placing marginalized individuals at risk of harm.

It is time for the medical fraternity to take a stand. In order to maintain the level of trust afforded by society, our ethical standards cannot be compromised. It is the responsibility of the medical governing body to take action against the doctors involved with this submission and restrict their registration. When such intolerance becomes normalized and acceptable it can take generations to amend. I want to believe I can trust my doctor, don’t you?

(1)    Apocalypse 91 – the enemy strikes black. Public Enemy. Lyrics: Chuck D
(2)    Derek Kickett (May 1995) playing for Sydney Swans against Collingwood
(3)    Pauline Hanson, maiden speech to House of Representatives