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Australian doctor Rodney Syme’s invitation to speak rescinded

Doctors, politicians and lawyers have come out swinging after a controversial urologist saw his invitation to speak at a prestigious national medical event rescinded.Dr Rodney Syme was set to headline a plenary session and “end of life” panel discussion at the annual conference of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians later this month, but has been “uninvited” from the Cairns event.It was revealed last week that Dr Syme publicly handed lethal illegal medication to a terminal cancer victim, Mr Ray Godbold​ of Inverloch. The exchange of the drug Nembutal – commonly used by vets to euthanise pets – was an act of defiance meant to draw attention to the “right to die” issue.Dr Syme said the retracted invitation exposed “astonishing rudeness” from the college on one level and “amazing cowardice” on another. “It’s an issue of academic censorship,” Dr Syme said, “and an example of the length and depth to which those ideologues who are opposed to this issue will go, in order to suppress the conversation.”  The RACP said through a spokesperson that Dr Syme had been uninvited prior to the publication of his most recent action. They added that the situation was “regrettable” and the decision – made after “careful consideration” – was “a difficult one, but it accurately reflected the membership’s feedback.”  The move has drawn the ire of many, however, including former chief minister of the Northern Territory, Marshall Perron, who wrote to the RACP to lambast their “disgraceful” action.  “As a supposedly professional body the organisation should encourage open honest discussion on issues of great interest to our ageing citizens,” he wrote. “Instead you demonstrate a cowardly approach of which you should be ashamed.”

Sydney GP Dr George Quittner also wrote to the college, appalled that Dr Syme had been “gagged”. He urged the college to reconsider their “damaging” stance.”Doctors who stand for honesty and integrity in their clinical work as well as their personal philosophy will reject you and your college for this cowardly and shameful act,” he wrote. “It is not in the spirit of our profession, or the Australian commitment to freedom of expression.”

Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside, a patron of Dying with Dignity Victoria for more than a decade, said the action was “interesting and disappointing” – but not surprising. “I fear that the Australian appetite for free discussion of ideas is diminishing,” he said. “We seem to be much more comfortable hearing opinions we agree with than those that challenge our view of the world.”

It has been a week since Dr Syme and Mr Godbold​ allowed their consultation to be chronicled, and yet neither man has so far been questioned or charged by Victoria Police. In Victoria it is a criminal offence to incite, aid or abet a suicide, with a maximum penalty of five years’ jail. Nembutal is also a “border controlled drug”, possession of which is a breach of law with penalties including imprisonment or fines of up to $825,000. Mr Burnside said he was pleased that Victoria Police have not yet moved on the men. “I’m impressed that they haven’t, because an immediate knee jerk reaction would be to jump in and raise a flag to say you’re cracking down on this kind of thing,” he said. “Instead they’ve shown restraint and common decency.”

Dr Syme, the vice-president of Dying with Dignity Victoria, has been investigated in the past regarding previous admissions of supplying Nembutal to terminally-ill patients, but has never been charged. A spokesperson for Victoria Police said that they will not provide running commentary on any investigations. “I don’t expect that there’s very much they can do,” Dr Syme added. “And if in the fullness of time there is no action, the less clear the law becomes and the more confident doctors can be in providing their patients with what I believe is good palliative care.”

(from Sydney Morning Herald)