The dangers of 'gay cure'
The archaic and dangerous beliefs upheld by many members of the Exclusive Brethren Christian sect are most often – and quite rightly – ignored, their group so strange and reclusive that they are best left to in their own unusual world. [Thankfully, they apparently don’t seek new members from the public – the word 'exclusive' is there for a reason].
But when some of the most potentially vulnerable people in our society fall victim to these beliefs, it is only justified and unavoidable that the morally reprehensible doctrines of this cult be brought into the spotlight again.
Last month, a 75-year-old doctor and member of the Exclusive Brethren was banned from practising as a GP (but allowed to continue his work as a radiologist) by the Medical Tribunal of NSW because he prescribed chemical castration to a young man seeking a ''cure'' for homosexuality.
Mark Christopher James Craddock, who claims to be the only Exclusive Brethren doctor in the state, wrote the then 18-year-old patient a script for cyproterone acetate (Cyprostat) during a 10-minute consultation in his home in February 2008.
The patient was at the time also an Exclusive Brethren church member.
In a letter of complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission, the patient said when he came out as gay, a church leader told him, ''there's medication you can go on''.
So he went to Craddock - which is the point where he should have been given support and guidance to understand and accept his sexuality. The doctor could have had a positive impact on this young man’s life. Instead, he may never be able to have children and will most likely need ongoing help to cope with the psychological effects of his ‘’treatment’’. [In an example of Doctors Doing Awesome Things, a good friend of mine was dragged to the doctor by his parents after coming out, as they hoped he could be ‘’cured’’. The doctor told his parents that he did not need to be cured and his sexuality was completely normal. His parents have since accepted his sexuality.]
Let’s not dismiss the significance of what happened here. A young, healthy but trusting man was chemically castrated without his knowledge and given the same drug sometimes prescribed to sex-offenders in order to "cure" him of a non-existent ailment.
The patient may well have struggled with his beliefs and his decision to come forward and make a formal complaint, but ultimately his brave move has ensured this doctor will never be able to exert his influence in such a horrific way again.
That anyone feeling uncertain about their sexuality and reaching out for help to someone in a position of power should be treated like a sick person in need of cure should ignite fury in all of us.
And it has – with leaders from other religions and healthcare professionals calling for acceptance of people, no matter what their sexuality is.
But predictably absent among those condemning anti-gay beliefs are the Exclusive Brethren. There will be other gay men and women in the ‘’religion,’’ many adolescents born into the sect and indoctrinated from birth, looking to their leaders for assurance that what they are feeling is accepted and normal. And when stories like this come to light it provides the perfect opportunity for the Exclusive Brethren to assure its members – and its critics - that views like Doctor Craddock’s are not the norm and will not be tolerated.
But they are, as-ever, silent.
Some will argue that people should not join these religions if they feel they do not fit in. But many people are born into these religions and only realise there are other beliefs and people who accept them once damage has already been done.
Instead, doctors who feel they are incapable of seeing patients without letting their own religious or personal beliefs influence treatment should choose another profession and get out of medicine.
Sadly, we have some way to go. Even students currently coming through medical schools have concerning views towards homosexuality, according to a recent US study published in the journal BMC Medical Education that found; ‘’an important minority of students express discomfort with the behavior of gay men and hold to a narrow construction of male identity. These findings suggest that competency training must move beyond conceptual discussions and address attitudes toward behaviors through new pedagogical approaches.’’
Remember when the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, backed controversial comments by the Australian Christian Lobby head, Jim Wallace, on how a homosexual ''lifestyle'' was more hazardous to health than smoking?
Well, perhaps he is right in a way. Because so long as homosexuals have to listen to the likes of Wallace and Jensen, while navigating their way around doctors who may not accept or understand them, of course they may be psychologically or even physically harmed and their health compromised.
But if gay people are suffering, it is not because of their sexuality. It is because of the idiotic but loud-mouthed few who use their position to cause harm, which is something people of all religions, beliefs and professions should stand together to condemn.
Melissa Davey is a health reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald