Doctors fear conversion therapy ban will deny treatment to vulnerable patients

The Age (Australia) February 2021
Doctors and psychiatrists want the Andrews government to make changes to its plan to ban gay conversion therapy, due to concerns it will discourage some practitioners from treating vulnerable patients.

The Victorian branches of the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists say the proposed legislation is too broad and the sanctions are too severe.

The bill to criminalise gay conversion practices, which will be introduced to the upper house on Thursday, includes penalties of up to 10 years in jail and maximum fines of $10,000 for anyone caught trying to suppress or change someone’s sexuality.

Dr Kerryn Rubin, chair of the college’s Victorian branch, said he feared the bill would potentially harm some of the most vulnerable people in society, who “need more help not less”.

Dr Rubin said the role of a psychiatrist was often to challenge the ideas of their patients and explore the reasons they feel a certain way.

“[The bill] is too much of a blanket statement on what constitutes a conversion practice versus exploratory therapies,” he said.

“Our concern is that there needs to be clarity around what is a conversion practice and what are acceptable practices when you are helping people.”

Dr Rubin said he had been inundated with correspondence from psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists who want the state government to clarify the legislation.

“There will be people who stop doing the valuable work they are doing over fears it will be considered conversion therapy. The unintended consequence is that it will make people more and more reticent to support people who really need our help.”

Victoria’s peak medical body has sought independent legal advice on the government’s proposal.

…The National Association of Practising Psychiatrists and Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists have also written to the government and upper house MPs demanding changes to the legislation.

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