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Privy Council overturns ruling by the GMC

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 27 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1250
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    Two doctors who were ordered by the General Medical Council to be suspended from the medical register for three months for plagiarism had their sentences quashed this week by the Privy Council.

    Lord Hoffmann, Martin Nourse, and Philip Otton substituted a reprimand for the suspensions originally imposed on Osama Hassan Salha and Naim Abusheikha.

    In 2000 Mr Abusheikha and Dr Salha, who worked at Bourn Hall Clinic near Cambridge and St James's University Hospital in Leeds, respectively, published a paper in Human Reproduction Update on the mechanism by which the inner cell mass of the human embryo sometimes divides to produce identical twins.

    They analysed 11 cases of identical twins, six of which were twins who were born after intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and referred to a 1994 article on the mechanism in Human Reproduction. But seven paragraphs were copied from the earlier article without acknowledgement.

    When the case went to the GMC Mr Abusheikha and Dr Salha each claimed he had had nothing to do with the composition of the paper. It was impossible to know which one was telling the truth. The GMC charged them both with failing to adequately review the paper before publication.

    At the hearing both doctors admitted all the alleged facts, but neither gave evidence. It was important to note, said the judges, that their 11 cases were genuine, and their offence was not to present the insight from the original paper as their own but to copy that paper's precis of the “state of the art” rather than express it in their own words.

    The GMC's professional conduct committee found the doctors guilty of serious professional misconduct, adding: “To accept the benefits of authorship while evading the responsibilities for any deficiencies in the paper is unacceptable and dishonest.”

    The judges said they did not consider there was any justification for the findings of dishonesty or lack of integrity against the doctors. Dishonesty had not been alleged against either of them, and a reprimand was substituted as the correct sentence for a negligent failure to prevent copying.

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