"Never regard yourself as already so thoroughly informed": The withdrawal of its invitation to Rodney Syme to address its 2015 Congress by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians

Malcolm Parker, Ian Kerridge, Paul Komesaroff

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    In 1628, William Harvey presented his revolutionary theory of the circulation to ears at the Royal College of Physicians that had been deafened by the unquestionable authority of Galen's teachings, from one and a half millennia in the past. Harvey's theory was initially rejected, despite his faith in his colleagues being eager for truth and knowledge, and never regarding themselves as so well informed that they would not welcome "further information". Recently Rodney Syme, the retired Melbourne urologist who for a long time has agitated for the legalisation of assisted dying, and also challenged the authorities to apply the current law in response to his admitted assistance to a number of individuals, was invited to address the 2015 Congress of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. At the eleventh hour, the invitation to speak was withdrawn. In this column, we trace the course of events leading to this withdrawal of the invitation, and describe some of the correspondence to and from the College in response to the withdrawal. We draw parallels between the experiences of Harvey and Syme, and point to lessons to be learnt from the recent episode of apparent unwillingness, on the part of an institution that seeks to present itself as outward-looking, progressive and socially aware, to fulfil this promise in the increasingly important area of the end-of-life.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)50-54
    Number of pages5
    JournalJournal of Law and Medicine
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015

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