Doctors brought down to earth

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The Independent Online
NOT ONLY are doctors no longer seen as God, they can no longer call themselves God, the General Medical Council's standards committee has decided, writes Nicholas Timmins.

In what may mark the final demise of the long-standing deification of the medical profession, the full council will today be asked to approve new guidance telling doctors it is wrong for them to use their professional position 'to express personal beliefs in ways which may cause distress or which exploit patients' vulnerability'.

The move follows cases drawn to the GMC's attention in which doctors have used their professional position to proselytise patients, or 'offer diagnoses based on spiritual, rather than on medical grounds'.

Dr Donald Irvine, the committee's chairman, said it had received three complaints in 1993 about doctors who had informed patients that they would not recover 'until they gave their lives to God'. One patient complained that following her child's death a GP told her she was 'evil' and that 'the devil had taken her baby'.

While it is clearly the doctor as spiritualist, faith-healer or over-enthusiastic evangelist that the GMC has in its sights, the new guidance will also relate to any personal or political view.

It would not be approriate to prevent doctors from expressing such views, but they should not do so to the point where they cause distress to patients. 'It will always be a matter of judgement where you draw the line,' Dr Irvine said. But his committee was worried if doctors started saying 'I am not going to care for you unless you sign up to certain beliefs or views I have'.

Sir Robert Kilpatrick, president of the GMC, also acknowledged there could be some difficult judgements involved. He had received a complaint from MPs over notices some GPs had displayed stating that 'This government is damaging your health'. Some patients would indeed find that rude, he said, but equally 'a large number of patients' would not.