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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2614 ..

Mr Berry: Don't do it.

MR HUMPHRIES: But to tell somebody how they can, nonetheless, do it, I believe may well offend the principles of people who are put in that position. I am treating this as a cognate debate in a way. What Ms Tucker's amendment would do would be to conscript them into making that reference, which may be an offence to their conscience. I think that is quite inappropriate.

The effect of repealing the provisions in the maternal health act, and substituting the provisions which now appear in Ms Gallagher's section 55E, is a considerable watering down of the rights a person might have were they to hold those convictions and be confronted with a person who was seeking those services. We have to understand that, by taking away the provisions that were there before and inserting these much less extensive provisions, we have sent the signal that there is less protection available to a person in those circumstances. I think it is quite appropriate to legislate, as Mrs Dunne has suggested, to say that a person does not have to take part in that process.

That is a matter of personal conviction, and I would be interested to see what members of this place might think were they to see the prosecution of a doctor or health worker for failing to comply with a requirement to refer a patient on conscientious grounds. Members might feel quite strongly about that, and I would like to imagine what members might say in those circumstances.

I concede that the letter from the president of the local AMA goes on to suggest that, in his view, the correct interpretation of the provision of the AMA code of ethics that I read before, and which Ms Tucker read, was that members should inform the patient of alternative places to seek out care. However, that is a matter of interpretation. It is not what the words actually say. The words actually say that they should inform the patient of their own-that is, the doctor's own-personal moral judgment or religious belief. I think that is all we should expect people to do in those circumstances.

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (9.59): I do not wish to labour the point. I have the letter that Ms Tucker and Mr Humphries were referring to, the letter from the AMA to me about this particular matter. I understand the significance of the debate that we are having about the two proposals here, and the obligation on a medical practitioner to provide information.

I have to say that I have difficulty supporting Mrs Dunne's formulation. I understand the point that Mr Humphries makes about imposing an obligation on a medical practitioner to refer a woman in circumstances where he is not, as a result of his conscience, inclined to support her. However, in his letter to me, Dr Pryor does refer to the code of ethics. There are two paragraphs that are pertinent. He refers to the code of ethics, which states:

When a personal moral judgment or religious belief alone prevents you from recommending some form of therapy, inform your patient so that they may seek care elsewhere.

Dr Pryor then goes on to say in the next paragraph,

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