Australia

Religious Discrimination Bill could see 'religious views interfere in patient care'

One group says the Religious Freedom Bill may impact healthcare in Australia. Source: Getty

The Religious Discrimination Bill may have unexpected effects on the Australian healthcare system, according to one group.

An LGBTQI+ advocacy group has warned the Coalition's Religious Discrimination Bill "will make it easier for personal religious views to interfere in patient healthcare".

The proposed bill is aimed at protecting religious expression from being discriminated against, but Equality Australia claims it may end up impeding Australians "access to quality healthcare without judgement".

"A health practitioner will be permitted to express polite and well-meaning, yet harmful, religious views in a consultation setting, with their discriminatory provision of health services immunised when challenged under other anti-discrimination laws," Equality Australia said in a report released Tuesday.

The group, which was born out the marriage quality campaign, used the report to catalogue several disciplinary cases since 2003 where health practitioners had pushed their religious views on patients.

It cited one 2015 case where "a devout Catholic and psychiatrist based in Western Sydney" told a Muslim woman with bipolar disorder "there was nothing wrong with her, as he prayed over her and drew the sign of a cross with holy water".

And in a 2007 case, a Christian dentist in Victoria "suggested that an antecedent or background cause of [a patient's] schizophrenia was an 'oppression by spirits of fear'."

LGBTQI+ groups have taken aim at the proposed bill.
LGBTQI+ groups have taken aim at the proposed bill.
AAP

Equality Australia claimed "these cases matter because the "draft Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 will make it easier for personal religious views to interfere with patient healthcare".

"Unless we get the balance right, the Religious Discrimination Bill will lead to more of these kinds of cases."

The group referred to a section of the draft bill which it said: "makes it harder for employers and professional bodies to impose rules which require health practitioners to treat all patients despite their personal religious objections".

In a statement, legal director at Equality Australia Ghassan Kassisieh said: "patient health should be the first priority in our healthcare system".

"This bill has the potential to wind back years of hard-fought protections ensuring that Australians have access to quality healthcare without judgement."

The government released the draft bill in August and has said it will be introduced to parliament by Christmas.

It is intended to "provide comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity in specified areas of public life".

Attorney-General Christian Porter has previously said the legislation will act as a "shield" to protect against discrimination rather than a "sword" for others to discriminate.

Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Attorney-General Christian Porter.
AAP

"The laws will protect people from being discriminated against, but will not give them a licence to discriminate against other people," he said.

The government received approximately 6,000 public submissions on its planned legislative reforms on religious freedom, many of them critical.

Other groups have also taken aim at how the bill could impact healthcare in Australia.

"The bill prioritises the interests of doctors who may conscientiously object to providing services such as abortion or contraception, over the interests of people to access those health services," executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre Hugh de Kretser said last month.

"The bill will also introduce unjustified protection for people to express harmful discriminatory views and will override certain state and territory protections which ensure fair treatment."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch