What’s Up Doc?
In the wake of negative views on homosexuality and equality aired by a group of doctors, Queenland medical and mental health professionals speak out in defense of the state’s LGBT people. Serkan Ozturks reports.
The relationship LGBT people have with their doctors and the care they are afforded has once again come under intense focus, after it was revealed this month that a group of doctors had sent a submission to the recent Senate inquiry into marriage equality which claimed homosexuality is dangerous and not normal.
Queensland health bodies, psychologists as well as family GPs have since banded together to blast the submission by the Doctors for the Family group which was signed by 150 medical professionals including Victoria’s chief deputy psychiatrist, Dr Kuruvilla George.
A former Catholic missionary, Dr George was forced into damage control when revelations about the group drew national media attention on May 13, with the mental health professional counselled by the state’s chief psychiatrist over his actions before he eventually tendered his resignation from the board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
The submission by Doctors for the Family opposed same-sex marriage on the grounds that marriage is between a man and a woman and attempts to introduce same-sex marriage would normalise homosexuality and produce negative health impacts such as an increase in HIV and syphilis.
The group was formed in November 2011 by West Australia-based GP Dr Lachlan Dunjey who has run as a Senate candidate for the Christian Democratic Party in a number of elections.
The Perth doctor was also president of Baptist Churches of WA in 1989-90 and in 2006 set up Medicine With Morality to lobby politicians on issues such as euthanasia and cloning.
Responding to the claims made in the submission, Paul R Martin, the executive director of peak Queensland LGBT health body, Healthy Communities, suggested to Queensland Pride the backers of the controversial submission were more likely than not attempting to trade on the goodwill and credibility many doctors enjoy within today’s society.
“Individuals are entitled to hold their own views, but this group have not written as individuals, but rather have attempted to use their profession to lend credence to their outdated and bigoted views,” he said.
“Their view that homosexuality is not normal would prejudice their response to any issue related to gay and lesbian people. It also draws into question their ability to provide quality services to LGBT patients, especially those coming out and exploring their sexual orientation.”
Such views have also been echoed by leading LGBTI-specialist psychologist, Paul Martin, from the Centre for Human Potential in Brisbane.
“I think they’re fully aware of the privileged place doctors have in the hearts and minds of Australians and are leveraging off that,” he told Queensland Pride.
“It means whatever they say has a lot of credibility even if it’s not based on evidence.”
General practitioner Dr Fiona Bisshop from the Central Brunswick Medical Centre in Brisbane’s Fortitute Valley, told Queensland Pride the actions of Doctors for the Family made her ashamed that medical professionals were using their status to push narrow-minded arguments.
“Unfortunately, whilst most doctors would run a mile to distance themselves from this group, their statement has the potential to lower community respect and trust for the real ‘family’ doctor,” she said.
“The quotes used by this small group of doctors are from very biased sources and do not reflect the growing body of mainstream evidence which shows no difference in mental and physical health and school performance of children with same sex parents.”
Psychologist Martin said mainstream bodies such as the Australian Psychological Society have already come out in public support for marriage equality based on links showing improved levels of mental health.
“They also state that they endorse the public statements made by the American Psychological Association which is based on empirical research,” he said.
“One of the other reasons why they support marriage equality is because during the marriage equality debate the negative rhetoric that comes out as part of that debate causes direct psychological harm to vulnerable same-sex attracted people.”
The controversy over Doctors for the Family comes as the Australian Lesbian Medical Association announced in mid-May that it would broaden its scope for its online list of doctors recommended by lesbian and bisexual women – known as DocLIST (www.doclist.com.au) – to now also include recommendations for mental health professionals.
“The list was set up in response to a clear need from the community,” DocLIST coordinator Dr Sarah Burrowes said.
“The DocLIST project aims to make lesbian-sensitive and bi-sensitive health care available to as many Australian women as possible and to congratulate health professionals who are providing an excellent service to lesbian and bisexual women.”
Martin told Queensland Pride initiatives like DocLIST were necessary when there still remained groups such as Doctors for the Family intent on not giving equal and fair treatment to all people they may have contact with.
“One of the potential outcomes of what they’re saying is the increased stigmatisation and discrimination towards same-sex families and children. Twenty-five per cent of same-sex people are raising children,” he said.
“For doctors to put them at risk of higher levels of discrimination, minority stress and stigmatisation is to me almost criminal.”