This article appears in the November 1999 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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The General Medical Council
and the Guild


The General Medical Council sees its role as ‘Protecting patients, guiding doctors’. As an elected body, with certain appointed members, its function is to maintain and promote the standards of the profession. The total membership is 104 of whom 54 are elected doctors, 25 are medical appointees from the various colleges, and 25 are lay appointees. To ensure a comprehensive and contemporary membership, elections are held every 5 years and the various groups within the profession are free to promote their own candidates. Lobbying in this manner is now a widely accepted practice among differing medical organisations. It follows from the publication of a brief curriculum vitae in the election literature outlining the candidate’s views. In the recent elections there were 42 places for England and 338 candidates.

The Guild has been fortunate in having had a member for the past 5 years. He is due for retirement, having served his allotted span with great distinction. To secure a worthy successor all our members were sent a letter advising them that a Guild member was standing as a candidate. That member was not elected.

In the August issue of the CMQ Michael Jarmulowicz, our secretary, stated how appalled he was that only a minority of members could be bothered to vote for our proposed candidate. The candidate, a well known and active member of Council, received only 243 first preference votes which, after transfer of second and other preference votes rose to a total of 290. This, unfortunately, was 170 votes short of that needed to secure a place on the GMC. It should be noted that the number of Guild voters eligible in this particular section would be over 700.

Such an event underlines what can only be seen as a regrettable seam of apathy within the Guild. It has always been regarded as important that we should have a voice in the deliberations of the GMC, as we have had in the past: that is now denied to us until the next elections. The disappointment is even greater, for the Guild over recent years has been listened to and consulted by other organisations and the media more than ever before. We have contributed to the various government agencies and ‘think-tanks’, our members have appeared on various discussion programmes and have been invited to deliver papers around the country to multiple symposia on current bioethical issues. The Guild is recognised as an active and informed body with views widely respected. Obviously, this distinguished respectability will not be jeopardised entirely by this current debacle; but it is a warning that such a demonstrable apathy within the ranks, if not remedied, is in danger of wrecking our main purpose. It is a setback which can be overcome by more determination in the future.

In a society in which moral values in the profession and medical technology are obscured and even unrecognised, our purpose is to promote them. In this atmosphere of confusion our role is to underline the traditional principles in danger of being ignored in technological advances. The Holy Father in Faith and Reason noted this when he stated 'faced with contemporary challenges in the social, economic, political and scientific fields, the ethical conscience of peoples is disorientated'.

Only a fraction of Catholic doctors are members of the Guild: as the Nuncio urged us recently, we must do ‘More, more and more’. Obviously, with young families, it is not easy to attend meetings. In actual fact Guild meetings are not well attended. Much can be done, however, by backing up the contributions submitted by the Committees to the various bodies with supporting letters. The BMA and local politicians are suitable targets: experience shows they are highly susceptible to letters. We hear at their conferences how much the community counts; so let us acquaint them with the real issues in bioethics. The availability of Fax and E-Mail which has now been established in the Secretariat must surely make this so much easier. Authorities respect numbers: their spin doctors avidly focus their interpretations on them.


In this issue we include a talk delivered by Father Kevin Kelly at the recent Symposium in Liverpool. One of his points when discussing the post-Christian global society was that ‘Christian morality, therefore, will inevitably be sectarian. Its fundamental world-view really has nothing in common with the predominant values of modern society’, and that ‘committed Catholic doctors should be prepared to enter in discussion with post Christian colleagues’. That may be an admirable academic approach; but what can the junior doctor do when expected to prescribe the post abortion pill in a busy A & E department, or when, on taking over from a colleague, he or she finds a call from the theatre to assist at an abortion already arranged? Action deter mined by conscience is required here with discussion relegated to the training committee.

Such circumstances are not uncommon in the frenetic life of a hospital. Their resolution for the committed Catholic doctor requires a strong determination and a lasting faith. On this definition we are all sectarians now: as such, to enter into discussion with our post-Christian colleagues after the event does not encourage objectivity. It is, however, well recognised that many junior doctors are acutely aware of the uproar created by a negative reaction to these circumstances and the expectation to accommodate to them. These are the doctors the Guild must support.

All is not gloom. In the contentious field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology a recent paper in the BMA News Review (September 1999) asserted that ‘there are many doctors who have been successfully promoted despite their conscientious objections’.

Surely this indicates that actions determined by conscience among current doctors are paying off.

Despite the quoted apathy, Guild membership is increasing on average by 50 per year. Admittedly this may not make a huge immediate impact on the large number of potential members we would like to welcome; but in relation to comparable bodies or societies it is quite healthy. The quoted piece in the BMA News Review already mentioned, with its accompanying interview of our own Master giving prominence to the Guild, created a record number of enquiries for information being received at the secretariat over a period of two days. Our future lies in our own hands.

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