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Obstetricians in trainee pregnancy row - The Australian

By Alan J. McDonald


Obstetricians in trainee pregnancy row

Obstetricians and workplace lawyers are outraged that a national medical conference next month will debate whether all female ­obstetrics and gynaecology registrars should be offered a five-year birth control device to ensure they do not get pregnant while undertaking their specialist training.

One obstetrician, who did not want to be named, said any discussion or suggestion of long-term contraception was discriminatory, and should not even be suggested.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Victorian and Tasmanian annual scientific meeting in late February has listed a debate titled “Membership ­before maternity leave: should every registrar have a Mirena?” that will question the reproductive rights of female medical trainees.

A Mirena is a five-year intra-uterine contraception device.

The obstetrician said the debate implied the college thought it was OK to discuss the reproductive rights of trainees. “It just defies belief that they would put it in black and white,” she said. “We all know they think it, but to say it out loud beggars belief.”

She said the debate represented “medicine personified” as an “old white blokes’ bastion”.

RANZCOG is one of 14 independent medical colleges operating in Australia and oversees the guidelines and regulatory framework that hospitals use to train medical registrars undertaking the specialisation. All obstetricians and gynaecologists in Australia and New Zealand must be registered with RANZCOG.

McDonald Murholme workplace lawyer Francessca Lee said she was surprised such a debate would be held about an issue that would be illegal if suggested in a workplace.

“I find it quite shocking that it would be considered because it’s unlawful,” Ms Lee said. “Even the pure discussion of this topic is discriminatory and it’s unlawful and it’s shocking to female employees that it’s even discussed.”

Ms Lee said the Fair Work Act protected employees from discrimination by employers against parental status and pregnancy. She said any such discussions in the workplace would also breach gender discrimination laws.

Both the obstetrician and Ms Lee called for the debate to be withdrawn from the February 28 conference program in Hobart.

RANZCOG national president Michael Permezel said the conference had been organised by the Tasmanian branch.

The convener is listed as Amanda Dennis. Her six organising committee members are all women.

Professor Permezel was unaware the debate, which he described as being “in bad taste”, had been listed and said he would speak to the convener on Monday about possibly revising the program. “Sometimes people put things on that are controversial or stupid and, if they’re angry about it, people get along (to the debate), and it may be fair to criticise some old-fashioned values that aren’t around anymore,” he said.

“It would never be discussed (in the workplace), never be considered — it’s complete rubbish.”

Up to 80 per cent of obstetrics and gynaecology trainees are women. The specialisation takes six years to complete if undertaken full time.

Professor Permezel said RANZCOG was the most progressive of the specialisation colleges and had gone to great lengths to ensure trainees were able to undertake postgraduate studies with the greatest flexibility, given the majority were women in child-bearing years. He said the provisions allowed women to take maternity leave midway through terms, all of their training counted towards total time, and they were able to work as few or as many hours as they liked.

“Nobody would be suggesting (they undertake sterilisation) for a moment and if they did they would risk being reported to the college and possibly the medical board to have their registration removed,” he said. “It’s entirely illegal and ­inappropriate.”

Australian Medical Association obstetrics and gynaecology spokesman Gino Pecoraro said the issue of how best to help trainees wanting to have children and arrange time away from work needed more discussion and should not be avoided because it was uncomfortable. “Talking about controversial issues and exploring solutions, is both healthy and necessary,” Dr Pecoraro said.

“Stifling discussion or not canvassing the views of all the people involved should never be the ­answer in a modern democracy.”

Reference: Obstetrics in trainee pregnancy row – The Australian, 2nd January 2016