Doctor suspended: when writing for Eternity is a thought crime

Jereth Kok is a hard working GP in Melbourne’s suburbs. That is, until he was suspended by the Medical Board of Australia for social media posts and an Eternity article.

A hearing before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has upheld the Medical Board of Australia’s suspension of doctor Kok. The Board engaged consultants to trawl through years of Kok’s posts, coming up with thousands of pages of material according to Christian Blogger Bill Muehlenberg whose site got caught up in the case – that was whittled down to 30 examples for the tribunal case, which included the Eternity article.

Kok, a Christian who is a cultural conservative, was accused of “Denigrating, demeaning and slurring medical practitioners” who had different views on:
• Terminations of pregnancy
• Gender dysphoria
• Commentary expressing and encouraging views regarding LGBQTI persons “contrary to accepted medical practice” and/or is “demeaning”.

The Board argued that it was in the public interest to suspend Kok. This is an interim stage – they could remove his right to practice medicine in future.

“The Board submitted that Dr Kok’s published statements are egregious and reflect a lack of the integrity, ethics and compassion required of a medical practitioner”, the VCAT Judgment notes.

This says the Board calls into question his suitability to hold registration as a medical practitioner.
The Board emphasises that the reputation of the profession, and the standards to which the profession is held, must be maintained. In order to retain public confidence, the public must see the regulator seeking to maintain those standards.”

Kok has been a GP for 11 years with no formal complaints from patients during that time. VCAT notes “No evidence was placed before us to show that in his actual practice Dr Kok has not endeavoured to protect and promote the health of individuals and the wider community. No evidence was placed before us to show that when consulting with his patients, Dr Kok does compromise their best interests.”

The Eternity article the board objected to, “A medical perspective on Transgender”, formed part of a series that teased out the balanche between grace and truth on that subject. It started with a piece by Tess Delbridge a former Eternity staffer “Gender bending? Transgender not as black and white as you might think”.

“We need a lens through which we can see the feelings of others, accept those feelings as real and true for them, without releasing from our grasp the biblical authority to interpret and interrogate those same feelings,” she argued.

(In an rare editorial note I pointed out that “It does not suggest you encourage someone to be transgender or to let feelings trump the Word of God”).

Because I knew that some people might want to strike a more conservative note.

Jereth Kok wrote his response. “I agree with [Delbridge] that our engagement with the complex issue of transgenderism must be a careful, educated one; not blunt or dismissive.” he went on to make the case that “At a fundamental level, our maleness and femaleness goes all the way down to the level of our individual cells,” suggesting that accepting transgender identity is “unkind”. Eternity negotiated some cuts to that article. In turn, Justine Toh from the Centre for Public Christianity wrote a response in Eternity  A little empathy, please, on the issue of transgender.

Eternity does not endorse Kok’s online comments in general  – he told the VCAT that he was aware some of them caused offence. Some  ten years of them were reviewed by the Medical Board’s consultants according to the VCAT case summary,

While VCAT points out that “It will be for later disciplinary investigations/proceedings to determine conclusively whether or not Dr Kok’s conduct warrants final disciplinary action” it acknowledges that “We also understand that whilst immediate action is temporary, it frequently remains in place for lengthy periods.” In other words. Kok’s patients should not expect him back soon.

While holding that “It is possible that ultimately Dr Kok will be found to be an individual with strong views who is also first and foremost a committed health practitioner. It may be possible for two personas to live within the one body” it expresses a firm view that
“Nevertheless, we have no doubt that Dr Kok should cease posting on social media.”

Kok is a slightly built, mild mannered Chinese Doctor. Nevertheless he bears comparison to Israel Folau – with much more orthodox Christian views.

The VCAT decision can be read here.