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Let’s be careful before restricting doctors’ freedom of speech

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1040 (Published 14 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1040
  1. David William Berger, general practitioner1
  1. 1Exmoor Medical Centre, Dulverton TA22 9EN, UK
  1. daveberger{at}gmail.com

The idea that doctors should not be free to say things that some people may find uncomfortable or distasteful is deeply troubling for two reasons.1

Firstly, it is an infringement of our rights to free speech. That must not be taken away so lightly. Ask the Bahraini medics in detention what they think.

Secondly, it stifles discussion about important issues for society. If doctors are unhappy about certain practices, why shouldn’t the public be aware? Who is the arbiter of what non-medical people are allowed to know and how they are allowed to know it? Who decides whether people are too sensitive to hear certain things? Who decides when trust in the profession is being undermined? Shouldn’t we be more grown up about who doctors are and how society has moved on? We’re just people like everyone else, and we don’t have God-like status that can be punctured with the click of a Facebook post.

And why single out online content? Why was Cardiac Arrest, the cynical medical drama, allowed, but analogous Facebook postings not?

The terms of this debate and the positions of the General Medical Council and other bodies are patrician and sinister. The move by medical regulatory bodies across the world to police online content from doctors for “disreputableness” has overtones of censorship in Britain before the Lady Chatterley trial: “Would you be prepared for your wife or servants to read these postings?” Yes, actually, I damned well would, and it may even do them, and society, some good.

Let’s be very careful for all our sakes before we start restricting doctors’ freedom of speech. It won’t stop there.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1040

Footnotes

  • Competing interests: DWB is a non-executive director of the BMJ Group.

References

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