Christian Legal Centre goes into bully mode as doctor claims religious persecution
The latest Christian who claims to be suffering disadvantage because of his religion is a GP by the name of Richard Scott. Apparently Dr Scott — along with his colleagues at his practice, the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent — think it is perfectly OK to try to evangelise patients and encourage them to attend the Alpha Course. Dr Scott is a “Christian doctor”, although how this makes him different from a “doctor” when you go to his surgery for medical treatment will soon become apparent.
On the website of the practice it says:
The 6 Partners are all practising Christians from a variety of Churches and their faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients and employees. The Partners feel that the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit. If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care. Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the Practice Manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.
So, if you are unlucky enough to be on the list at the Bethesda practice and if you have, say, tonsillitis, you might find your doctor as likely to stuff the Bible down your throat as he is to prescribe antibiotics. And the onus is on the patient to say in advance that they don’t want to be introduced to Jesus, but just to have their clicky hip seen to. And all this on the long-suffering budgets of the National Health Service.
Dr Scott says that he has evangelised “thousands” of people in his surgery and has been complained about on several other occasions. The latest complaint came from the mother of a 24 year old man (not a Christian, although we are not told what religion he is) suffering from depression. When he returned from a visit to Dr Scott he told his mother that the doctor had been more concerned to discuss Jesus with him than the problem he had gone with. Dr Scott denies this.
Understandably, she complained to the General Medical Council which has written to Scott suggesting he accept an official warning over his behaviour, which is contrary to accepted guidelines.
But Dr Scott is one of the new breed of muscular Christian who thinks that the whole world is out to destroy his religion and that he is a victim who must stand up for his faith.
So, naturally, he took himself off to the Christian Legal Centre, source of all such paranoia, telling them that he had no intention of having a warning on his record and that he wanted to fight the case.
The Christian Legal Centre was thrilled to have a new “martyr” to represent and immediately contacted its friends at the Telegraph and the Mail with the usual one-sided, exaggerated and misleading version of events. These so-called newspapers then printed the farrago of half-truths and partiality verbatim with no dissenting opinion sought, knowing that the GMC would be unable to defend itself because it is bound by rules of confidentiality.
Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the GMC, said:
“The GMC does not discuss individual cases but our guidance, which all doctors must follow, is clear; doctors should not normally discuss their personal beliefs with patients unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient's care. They also must not impose their beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views.”
(Read the GMC’s Personal Beliefs guidance )
We now hear that Dr Scott has opted for an oral hearing before the GMC’s investigation committee, which has the power to confirm that a warning should be issued, conclude the case with no action, or, if new evidence emerges, refer the case to a fitness to practise panel, which has the power to strike a doctor off the medical register.
Speaking on Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine programme, Dr Antony Lempert of the Secular Medical Forum said:
“Many patients are very vulnerable, GPs often fail to recognise the massive imbalance of power in the patient/GP relationship. Dr Scott referred to the World Health Organisation’s recommendations that health care is also partly spiritual, but this does not necessarily mean religious.
“Treatment should be about the patient, not the doctor. There are times when talking about the patient’s faith can help them (e.g. end of life) but doctors should always be led by the patient’s needs. The GMC guidelines say it is important doctors don’t try to impose their personal beliefs, as this may upset the patient.”
Dr Scott is being advised by the Christian Legal Centre’s star barrister Paul Diamond, who was humiliated last time he appeared in court for the CLC when the judges expressed concern about his “extravagant rhetoric” and said his claims about the persecution of Christians in the UK “are for the greater part, in our judgment, simply wrong as to the factual premises on which they are based and at best tendentious in their analysis of the issues.” They also said: “Mr Diamond has sought to rely on material which is unsupported by any evidential evaluation. We are not in a position to assess, let alone evaluate, any of the material relied on.”
So, let us step back and look at what all this means. Well, to start with, it adds another chapter to the growing mythology of Christian persecution in Britain that the Christian Legal Centre and the right-wing press have cleverly created.
Bringing one case after another of Christian activists seeking to be treated differently to everyone else, the CLC has managed to persuade a growing number of people — most of whom should know better — that there is some kind of “secularist attack” on Christianity in this country.
But in all instances when these cases come to court they have been shown to be completely without merit. By that time, though, the myth has been well and truly imprinted in the public mind. Now, instead of a bunch of unpleasant bigots who are trying to get themselves exempted from the law, everyone imagines we have a whole gaggle of poor, persecuted Christians who have done nothing wrong but to stand up for their faith.
In the case of Dr Scott, we have a man who has signed up to abide by the rules of his professional body, the GMC, but then decided that, because he is a Christian (and therefore special) he shouldn’t have to obey them.
So, although this case probably wouldn’t stand a chance in court, we’ve yet to see whether the GMC has the guts to see it through and to insist that its rules apply to all. Unfortunately bodies such as the GMC tend to shrink from controversy, particularly religious controversy, and the Christian Legal Centre and Dr Scott may well be able to bully it into submission.
Given Dr Scott has decided to play hardball, the NSS and Secular Medical Forum have written to the GMC commending their decision, and bringing to their attention relevant information in the public domain, including transcripts of what the recalcitrant Dr Scott has said on air.