Queensland child psychiatrist challenging gender ideology

In the words of Christian author and social critic Os Guinness, “Freedom of religion and conscience affirms the dignity, worth, and agency of every human person by freeing us to align ‘who we understand ourselves to be’ with ‘what we believe actually is’, and then to think, speak, and act in line with these convictions.”

Dr Jillian Spencer, a respected child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Queensland, is feeling the pressure that comes from acting “in line with her own convictions” as she challenges the requirement of her employer to conform to gender ideology in her workplace. 

Dr Spencer is expert in her field, with over 20 years of experience as a medical practitioner and 10 as a specialist psychiatrist. She has been open about preferring a cautious and holistic approach to the treatment of gender dysphoria cases, rather than an automatic ‘affirmation’ only approach.

Her approach is consistent with growing international medical discourse on gender treatment for minors following investigations in the UK, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Nevertheless, this cautious approach is not permitted by the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

With assistance from the Human Rights Law Alliance, Dr Spencer will be contesting the requirement to use preferred pronouns and names and keep all clinical records according to a patient’s preferred gender identity. She has lodged a complaint with Queensland’s Human Rights Commission, on the basis that she should have a right as a doctor to object to the unscientific “affirmation” model of care for children. She will be claiming a breach of human rights under the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019, pertaining to recognition and equality before the law, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and the right to freedom of political expression.

As a consequence of her professional opinions and courageous stand, Dr Spencer has had a complaint against her, which is being investigated by the hospital, and she has been stood down pending the investigation. She is challenging this in a separate employment law matter, alongside the legal case being run by HRLA contesting the breaches of her fundamental rights and freedoms.

HRLA and Dr Spencer will argue that the imposition of the requirement to adopt a gender affirmation approach is incompatible with human rights, limiting her freedom of thought, conscience and belief, her right to hold an opinion without interference, and to impart ideas in a manner that is not reasonable, proportionate or demonstrably justifiable under law.

This case will be important in the fight against compelled pronouns and the harmful imposition of unscientific political ideology onto medical practice – an ideology that is evidently failing to protect children.

Dr Spencer’s case has put a spotlight on the Queensland Children’s Hospital, and has prompted other doctors to also raise concerns:

Some staff members employed at the QCH have spoken of their concern at the way Dr Spencer’s case was being handled after the hospital drew upon its powers to compel staff under employment law to use children’s preferred pronouns, even though doing so was regarded by the Cass Review as an active treatment measure as part of a social transition process that could lead to a cascade of medical interventions.

By forcing doctors to facilitate medical affirmation and constraining their ability to provide safe and ethical medical care for their patients in line with the best available scientific evidence, policies such as those of the Queensland Children’s Hospital infringe the human rights of doctors to act in conformity with their conscience. They also infringe the rights of patients to receive proper treatment and informed consent, which includes information about different treatment options and the pros and cons of each.

It is not a doctor’s job to affirm unreality. Nor is it a doctor’s job to promote political ideologies.

This case will test the limits of the government's ability to override the conscience rights of medical practitioners in a field of medicine that is highly contested, lacks robust evidence and is rapidly evolving.