Questions and Answers signpostNew information has just come to light on this question, which I wanted to share with you because it is very important and will have implications for all parents who are filing as a conscientious objector to vaccination. It is also quite different from my previous understanding of this issue.

From the very beginning of the policy that required parents who were not vaccinating to see an immunisation provider in order to get their conscientious objector form signed (in order to get the Maternity Immunisation Allowance and the Childcare Benefit), the AVN has had a steady stream of parents approach them because GPs were refusing to sign the form.

We were told by the AMA that there was no requirement for doctors to actually sign this form – leading to parents seeing up to 20 or more doctors before finding one who would agree to sign. One wonders if the AMA were lying or simply ignorant. Either way, it is not a great recommendation for their integrity.

This made no sense to us because the requirement was for a doctor to ‘counsel’ the parent on the benefits and risks of vaccination and then, sign the form to say they had counselled – not that they agreed or disagreed with the decision of the parent.

Despite this, as I said above, it has been common for doctors to refuse to sign these forms leading to great stress on the part of parents who have felt bullied, intimidated and even abused by some less than ethical medicos.

Now however, I have been given a copy of an article from the Australian Doctor Weekly.

Written by Dr Craig Lilienthal, a practising GP, medicolegal consultant and a member of Avant’s Medical Advisory Council, it appears that there is a legal requirement for doctors to sign these forms. This is information parents need to be aware of and, if doctors do refuse to sign, it looks as though parents would be well within their rights to file an official complaint with the healthcare complaints commission in their State or Territory.

From the article:

Case one:

A young mother asks you to provide her with a medical certificate stating she is a conscientious objector to her children being immunised. She needs the certificate so they can attend school and she can receive Family Assistance payments (please note – this information is incorrect since the conscientious objector has nothing to do with school entry or Family Assistance payments – only the two payments noted above).

You are personally opposed to her views and believe her thinking – about the risks of vaccinations and the benefits of immunity through healthy eating – is unrealistic.

You advise her accordingly and state that you are a conscientious objector to providing the requested documentation.

Options:

You can decline to provide her with the requested document because:

A – Her views fly in the face of accepted medical knowledge.

B – You are opposed to her views and believe she is putting her children at risk.

C – The legislation allows you to decline the request.

D – None of the above

Answer A may be supported by the great bulk of your professional colleagues, but does not constitute grounds for declining her request. Answer B represents your personal views and we know and accept that we cannot impose our personal opinions on our patients. Answer C is not correct either. The Family Assistance Act imposes a legal duty of care on doctors to sign the forms after discussing the pros and cons of the situation with parents. Your refusal to sign a form or provide a certificate amounts to a disregard of the legally recognised right of every person to refuse medical treatment. The correct answer, therefore, is D, none of the above.

Please share this information widely since the best way for parents to defend their rights is to be aware of them and we all need to be aware of this requirement on the part of doctors.

Also, remember that the Health Insurance Commission regularly ‘loses’ the Conscientious Objector Forms that have been submitted by parents. Therefore, be sure to keep a copy and to send your form in by registered mail.