Doctors for the Family — but not evidence

If a doctor wants to abide by his or her conscience on the question of gay marriage, I’m fine with that.

If the same doctor claims to speak for the evidence on the health and social impacts of homosexuality, but instead speaks from his or her moral beliefs and distorts the evidence to do so, then I have a problem.

The Herald-Sun reports today that Prof Kuruvilla George, Victoria’s Deputy Chief Psychiatrist and Government-appointed member of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, joined a list of signatories to a Senate Inquiry submission by “Doctors for the Family” opposing theMarriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.

The submission was made after Prof George’s appointment to the Commission and makes his tenure there impossible;  lawful sexual activity is one of the attributes the Commission was created to protect.

Disagreeing about gay marriage isn’t the problem — it’s how the Doctors for “the” (sic) Family went about it.  They explicitly argue their case on health grounds, saying they were created to “highlight the health aspects of marriage and family and ensure a healthy future for our children.”  Their terms are medical, rather than moral.

“We submit that the evidence is clear that children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters than children without.”

The source they cite is a report by a Law professor from a study commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby.  This is not medical evidence;  nor is it free of bias;  nor is it accurate about the current state of the evidence, which shows that children raised by same sex parents do as well as (and sometimes better than) children of opposite sex parents.

The submission goes on to refer to ominous “health consequences of that behaviour [i.e. homosexuality] for children”, but the footnote turns out to refer to HIV and syphilis infection.  These are vanishingly uncommon among children, and they are the consequences of epidemics of HIV and syphilis, not homosexuality.

These are not complicated moral questions: they’re matters of fact.  In giving health advice a doctor has a professional and legal duty to be informed and unbiased.  In claiming to speak as doctors and to offer advice about public and children’s health, these citizens have created that expectation and then signally failed to fulfil it.

The Australian Medical Association has firmly refuted the claims and the ABC is reporting the Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge, has asked Prof George for an immediate explanation. Attorney-General Robert Clark, who appointed Prof George to the Commission, needs to do the same.

Given his willingness to put scientifically unfounded personal beliefs ahead of the established evidence on homosexuality and same sex parentage, Prof George’s tenure as Deputy Chief Psychiatrist for Victoria and membership of the Commission are unsustainable and should be terminated.