On 30 November the British Medical Journal published an article by Colin Brewer, ‘a director of the Secular Medical Forum’ , titled ‘Secularism needs a distinctive medical voice’.
The 900 word one page article, which appeared in the BMJ’s ‘personal view’ column, and claimed to be ‘not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed’, is essentially an advertorial for Brewer's organisation.
It depicts atheist doctors as a historically persecuted minority and claims that they are ‘still vilified by religious leaders’ who ‘typically suppress dissent’ and ‘forbid fundamental criticism of their sacred texts’.
He adds that ‘most Europeans now have relaxed views on both faith and their texts’ and ‘are often indistinguishable in their daily behaviour from frank unbelievers’. This, according to Brewer, ‘displeases the minority of enthusiasts who take their ideologies seriously and want us to live and die as they believe their texts dictate’.
He claims that ‘few matters of current medicoethical concern are mentioned in sacred texts, and then often obscurely or contradictorily’.
The Bible apparently ‘does not condemn suicide’ but nevertheless, ‘there are well organised religious campaigns against legalising assisted dying’. Objection to abortion is similarly misguided as the view that life begins at fertilisation dates to 1869 when the Vatican ‘moved the goalposts’. Other ‘religious practices’ involving ‘childhood transfusions and genital mutilation’ are now categorised as ‘child abuse’.
We are told that ‘text worshippers are inherently unwilling to re-examine old dogmas’ and that the ‘separation of church and state is more important than ever’.
All this is preparation for an appeal to doctors to join the ‘Secular Medical Forum’ (SMF) which represents people who ‘unlike text worshippers… are poorly organised, do not gather weekly, and have no priests to encourage us personally to badger our MPs and BMA representatives about proposed legislation’.
Instead the SMF ‘exists to give a voice to the many secular health professionals’ and its members ‘have varying views on the great ethical issues’.
I was interested therefore to examine the SMF website see if these claims about ‘varying views on the great ethical issues’ actually rang true.
The following ‘views’ of the forum are pasted verbatim from its website:
1. ‘The Secular Medical Forum strongly supports the right of women to have legal and safe abortions’;
2. ‘The Secular Medical Forum (SMF) believes that legislation for Physician assisted suicide, with adequate safeguards, for terminally ill, competent adults should be introduced in the UK as soon as possible’;
3. ‘The Secular Medical Forum fully supports embryonic stem cell research - and also the creation of hybrid embryos’;
4. ‘The SMF considers that people with strong objections to offering normal medical care and activities should responsibly choose to work in a speciality which does not bring their personal views into conflict with patient care’;
5. ‘The SMF thinks it imperative that patients are made aware of relevant personal views (of doctors) at the earliest opportunity … and would like for there to be a register of these people, centrally kept by the appropriate professional bodies to which they belong, which can be open to the public.’
On its ‘resources’ page it lists some submissions it has made to various official bodies and gives links to the British Humanist Association, National Secular Society and Lawyers' Secular Society along with others to ‘pro-choice’ and pro-euthanasia organisations including Abortion Rights, Brook Advisory Centres, Marie Stopes International, Education for Choice, Dignity in Dying and Friends At The End (FATE).
The website gives very little information about SMF’s membership or office holders, and no address or contact details apart from a contact email for a Dr Anthony Lempert, an anti-circumcision campaigner who received the 2010 ‘academic’ prize at the Erotic Awards, an annual British event that ‘honours achievement in erotica worldwide’.
We are told that the SMF was established in December 2006 ‘following informal discussions at the AGM of the National Secular Society’ and that it ‘drafted statements on a variety of subjects (ranging from physician-assisted suicide to HIV/AIDS, and from abortion to stem-cell research) during January and February 2007’.
The SMF website does not tell us that its first coordinator, ‘Michael Irwin, a retired GP and a former Medical Director of the United Nations’, was also previously head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (now 'Dignity in Dying') and is currently leader of the controversial pro-euthanasia group ‘Society for Old Age Rational Suicide’, nor that he was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council in 2005 for trying to help a friend kill himself. Irwin admitted obtaining sleeping pills to help his friend die and a GMC panel found him guilty of serious professional misconduct.
And neither the website nor the BMJ article tell us that Colin Brewer himself was also struck off the medical register in 2006 after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the GMC following allegations of inappropriate drug prescribing for patients with addictions.
From all appearances the SMF is a small pressure group led by doctors with extreme views who are considered no longer fit to practice, which has been set up to promote abortion, assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research. I would think that most atheist doctors would not choose to be associated with it.
How interesting that the BMJ editors have taken it upon themselves to give it an international platform.