Friday, February 27, 2009

Northern Territory Medical Association Director Compares Smokers with Pedophiles

The president of the Northern Territory Medical Association has compared smokers to pedophiles, according to an article in the Northern Territory News.

According to the article, the remarks came in the context of the Medical Association president calling for a ban on smokers being employed by the Territory Health Department. He pointed out that smokers would be most inappropriate as employees when working with indigenous Territorians and stated that sending smokers out to work with indigenous people was like allowing convicted pedophiles to work with children:

"Smokers should be discriminated against when applying for jobs with the Territory Health Department, a leading doctor declared yesterday. NT Australian Medical Association president Peter Beaumont said the bias should be strongest when recruiting people to work in Aboriginal communities. He said sending smokers to work with indigenous people was like allowing convicted pedophiles to work with children."

"Sixty per cent of indigenous Territorians smoke, compared with 17 per cent in the general community. Dr. Beaumont said he didn't care if his proposal caused a "backlash". "You wouldn't send pedophiles to work in an area where there were lots of children," he said. "Society wouldn't think there was anything wrong with putting limits on them. "So why shouldn't we limit people who have a very bad health habit?" Dr. Beaumont said discriminating against smokers in the NT public service would set a good example to the rest of the community."

The Rest of the Story

The significance of this story is that this statement is coming not from some commenter on a blog (I have seen such comments), but from a physician who is in a leadership position in the medical profession. This individual runs the Northern Territory Medical Association. Thus, in some respects, his statement characterizes the position of all physicians in the Northern Territory.

Discriminating against smokers is the last thing in the world that you would want to do in the NT. Since rates of smoking among indigenous Territorians are extremely high (about 60%), the Medical Association is promoting a position by which the majority of the indigenous community would not be eligible for employment.

There is no reason why smokers as a group should be categorically denied employment in the health field. While you might not want to hire a smoker as a smoking cessation counselor, virtually any other position in the public health field is one for which a smoker could be equally or more qualified than a nonsmoker. By categorically denying employment to smokers, you are ensuring that you will not have the most qualified work force. By definition, then, you will not be able to provide health services most effectively.

Fortunately, the NT Health Minister immediately rejected the Medical Association's proposal: "We have enough difficulties recruiting health professionals to the Territory. Why would we place further restrictions on them?"

As far as the comparison between smokers and pedophiles, it is a disgusting and despicable comment and a retraction and apology is called for. It is an embarrassment to not only the NT Medical Association, but to physicians everywhere.

(Thanks to Michael McFadden for the tip.)

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