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17 Dec 2013

The AMA has declared that access to reproductive medicine, including family planning services and emergency contraception, should be free of political or religious interference.

As the Victorian Government acted to hose down speculation it would back changes to the State’s abortion laws, the AMA issued a statement declaring that doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion could refuse to carry out or assist in such a procedure, but should not act to impede a patient’s access to care.

In its Position Statement on Ethical Issues in Reproductive Medicine 2013, the Association said all individuals had the right to make their own decision about reproduction and the use of reproductive medicine.

“Access to reproductive medicine should be free from political or religious interference,” AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb said. “All individuals should be aware of, and have access to, affordable family planning information and services.”

The issue has risen to prominence in Victoria recently after GP Mark Hobart refused to provide a referral for a couple seeking an abortion. His conduct is under investigation by the Medical Board of Victoria.

But concerns about a push to curb access to abortion have risen after the Victorian Liberal Party State Council passed a motion to overhaul abortion laws, and renegade balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw told The Age he thought doctors should have a right to follow his or her conscience in not referring women wanting an abortion to a pro-choice doctor.

Victorian Premier Dr Denis Napthine responded unequivocally on the issue in an interview on ABC television.

Dr Napthine said, “As Premier, neither I, nor my Government, have any intention of introducing legislation that would reduce a woman's right to choose.

“This issue was vigorously debated in the community, and settled in the Parliament, in 2008. I have no intention, whatsoever, of introducing, or supporting, legislation that would reduce a woman’s right to choose.”

In its Position Statement, the AMA said it was “inappropriate” to offer egg, sperm or embryo donors, or surrogates, money or other inducements, though they could be reimbursed for reasonable expenses.

Tackling another ethical dilemma, it said people with impaired capacity should be included in decisions regarding their family planning, “to the extent possible”, and doctors should respect the wishes for confidentiality of young people with decision-making capacity.

The Statement emphasised the important role doctors had to play in informing patients about up-to-date family planning options, including the associated risks and benefits.

When discussing options with patients, doctors are advised that sterilisation should be considered an irreversible form of contraception.

The emerging area of genetic screening has raised a range of ethical challenges that are addressed in the revised Position Statement.

The AMA said the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis should be restricted to the identification of fatal or seriously and permanently disabling diseases.

“Genetic selection should not be undertaken on the basis of sex (except in order to avoid hereditary sex-linked disease) or on the basis of characteristics or traits that are unrelated to disease,” it said.

The Position Statement can be viewed at:

Adrian Rollins


Published: 17 Dec 2013