WMA Urges Australian Government to Reconsider Attempt to Silence Physicians

(02.07.2015) The World Medical Association has called on the Australian Government to allow doctors to speak out about the health of asylum seekers held in Australian detention centres.

In a letter to Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the WMA’s President Dr. Xavier Deau and Chair Dr. Ardis Hoven say that the recent Australian Border Force Act effectively silences physicians who address the health conditions of asylum seekers. The legislation imposes a penalty of two years' imprisonment on any person, doctor or otherwise, who discloses information obtained by that person while working as an employee of a service provider to the relevant Government Department, namely Immigration and Border Protection.

In their letter, the WMA leaders say: ‘This we must assume extends to doctors working in refugee centres who report on their observations arising from their work. 

‘This is in striking conflict with basic principles of medical ethics. Physicians have to raise their voice, if necessary publicly, when health conditions of their patients, be those free or in detention, are unacceptable. From the incoming reports we must assume that this is the case in the detention centres under responsibility of the Australian Government. We applaud and support those colleagues who advocate for their patients and speak out.

‘We do support the motion by Australian Medical Association National Conference calling on the Australian Government to amend the legislation to provide an exemption for public interest disclosure. Nothing less would be appropriate for a democratic state.’ 

Commenting on the letter, Dr. Deau said: ‘This is effectively an attempt by the Australian government to gag physicians by making their advocacy for the health care of asylum seekers in Australian detention camps a criminal offence. Such a procedure is not acceptable‘.