Australian doctor suspended indefinitely for sharing conservative social media posts
MELBOURNE, Australia, December 15, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – An Australian doctor of 15 years has had his license suspended indefinitely after a tribunal concluded that his social media posts showed “clear conservative leanings,” with “the potential for individuals to take posts personally that reference members of the LGBQTI+ community.”
In 2019, the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) launched an investigation into the Evangelical Christian Dr. Jereth Kok after receiving two anonymous complaints about social media posts he had shared within the last ten years. In an interview with Family Voice Australia, Kok described the moment he found out that an investigation into his conduct had been opened: “One Friday afternoon last year, while consulting with patients, I was suddenly given notice that I was going to be summarily removed from practice to protect the ‘public interest’.”
According to Kok, in the nine months prior to receiving notice of his removal, the MBA had quietly been trawling through his content on the internet, looking for material which he had written that could implicate him in medical misconduct, saying the “Board ultimately hired a private investigator to run a dragnet over the internet for material written by me.”
Things began to move quickly after Kok received his notice, and the next week he was called to a hearing where he “was not asked any questions” and “was in there for about fifteen minutes.” In that short time, his registration was suspended, “meaning that [he] could no longer work, could no longer provide care or even speak to [his] patients.” The decision to suspend Kok until his trial was made regardless of the fact that no complaints were ever forwarded by any of his own patients.
The supposedly incriminating data comes in the form of discussions Kok entered into on online fora, comments made on Facebook “and ‘memes’ and articles that [he] shared there [Facebook]; including articles by the American political commentator Matt Walsh, and the satire site Babylon Bee.” The content of the online material includes his strongly pro-life and pro-family views, especially around the topics of abortion, homosexuality, and “transgenderism.”
“I never dreamt that publicly sharing a Matt Walsh or Babylon Bee article would be career ending,” Kok said.
The medic clarified that he has never discriminated against a patient in his professional capacity as doctor. “I’ve practised medicine for over 15 years, and looked after many people who would identify as ‘LGBT’. None of them has ever complained about rudeness, discrimination, etc.” Nevertheless the MBA still alleged that Kok “was providing compromised healthcare to ‘LGBT’ patients ,” despite later admitting that “this allegation was unsubstantiated.”
Analysing Kok’s case, principal lawyer of the Human Rights Law Alliance John Steenhof has said that the MBA’s decision “has important implications for freedom of speech, protecting the right to a fair trial, and the invasion of cancel culture into the law.”
Steenhof identifies freedom of speech as a key issue in Kok’s case, explaining that “the laws were amended in 2018 to give the Medical Board [MBA] wider powers to take action against doctors where it is ‘in the public interest’ to ‘uphold public confidence in the provision of services of medical practitioners’.”
Steenhof says that the new legislation is “a great threat to fundamental freedoms” giving “far-reaching powers of censure to unaccountable administrative bodies.”
“It is also extremely problematic for laws to provide vague and imprecise grounds such as ‘the public interest’ on which those powers can be exercised,” the lawyer wrote in an article published earlier this year.
Moreover, despite the fact that the Tribunal could not find any evidence to substantiate the claim that Dr. Kok’s opinions affect his professional practice, “it was sufficient that the community might consider that someone posting those views could fail to give ‘respectful’ and ‘appropriate’ treatment.” The MBA offered no definition for the word “appropriate” in this context. On top of this, the Tribunal speculated that “his opinions might affect the way he treats other doctors.”
These hunches of the MBA were sufficient, in their view, to suspend Dr. Kok indefinitely, a man with a wife and two children, without pay.
Commenting on the Tribunal’s decision to suspend Dr. Kok, Steenhof said: “[t]his Tribunal decision is concerning and should scare anyone in health services who comes within the regulation of the Medical Board of Australia.”
“The Tribunal has upheld a very low bar for allowing the Medical Board to exercise vaguely worded powers to impose severe sanctions on a doctor prior to a completed investigation or full trial. So, the end result is that a doctor is suspended indefinitely without a full hearing, not for what he does, but for what he has said (or typed into a keyboard).”