About The Film

Against Our Oath – a documentary feature film

Ethical conflicts erupt for doctors as the Australian government overrides their clinical decisions made for refugee patients. If doctors cannot follow their medical ethics what will happen to their patients?

About the film

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are detained on the remote Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. Ethical conflicts erupt for doctors working within this offshore system when the Australian government overrides their clinical decisions made for asylum seeker and refugee patients. If doctors cannot follow the ethics their profession is bound to, what will happen to their patients?

Nauru Regional Processing Centre
Nauru Regional Processing Centre. Credit: Supplied

Filmed over four years this documentary gets behind the hospital doors to hear from clinicians themselves, who face enormous political pressure, as they cannot always act in their patient’s best interest. Doctors become morally torn as they know they must never abandon their patients and the ethics upon which their medical profession was founded.

The government believes following doctors’ requests to transfer critically ill patients to lifesaving care in Australia would weaken Australia’s border protection system. Herein lies the extraordinary conflict of medical ethics versus politics that is playing out for doctors in Australia today. How will this conflict be resolved?

AMSA rally Credit: Kristy Dowsing
AMSA rally Credit: Kristy Dowsing

Professor David Isaacs advocates publicly when he witnesses Australia’s offshore system contravening his ethical obligations. Shortly afterwards the Border Force Act of July 2015 passes through the Australian Parliament, threatening doctors with two year jail sentences. Many doctors are intimidated. The staff turnovers are high. Will the doctors risk jail and speak out?

The film reflects on the origin of medical ethics going back to the Hippocratic Oath more than 2500 years ago. The Nuremberg Doctors Trial at the end of World War II saw these ethics modernised by the World Medical Association to create the Declaration of Geneva which doctors use today. First hand scenes of refugees being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea and then moving across Europe, interweave scenes in the film, with medical ethics as the backbone of the story.

Ali Kharsa, Syrian refugee & rap singer. Credit: Heather Kirkpatrick
Ali Kharsa, Syrian refugee & rap singer. Credit: Heather Kirkpatrick
Refugees arriving in Munich. Credit: Heather Kirkpatrick
Refugees arriving in Munich. Credit: Heather Kirkpatrick

We hear first hand experiences of the living conditions on Nauru from Syrian refugee and rap singer Ali Kharsa who was held in the Nauru Detention Centre for two years with his father.

 

 

 

 

Medical ethics were put to the test in February 2016 when the Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane, did not discharge a young child baby Asha back to Nauru after medical treatment, as the government had demanded. Rumours circulate that the Australian Border Force guards will attempt to remove baby Asha themselves from the hospital, so hundreds of people surround the hospital in support of the doctors. What becomes of the standoff over ten days of resistance?

A delayed transfer for a leg infection saw Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaie die as he reaches the Mater Hospital in Brisbane. The government faces its first coronial inquest into a death related to the offshore medical system as the patient died in Australia and not on Manus Island. The inner workings of the offshore medical system face close examination after 12 people have died. What will be the coroner’s findings in 2018?

In late 2018, a surprise result in a federal by-election sees independent candidate Doctor Kerryn Phelps, a former Australian Medical Association President, win the seat as the government loses its majority in the federal parliament. Dr Phelps is determined to see medical ethics followed and patients transferred according to doctors’ orders. A battle persists for months before an Urgent Medical Treatment Bill [Medevac Bill] becomes law in February 2019.

Dr Kerryn Phelps as Medevac Law passes Credit: AAP Dan Peled
Dr Kerryn Phelps as Medevac Law passes. Credit: Dan Peled/AAP

The re-elected government plan to repeal the Medevac Bill in late 2019. Will politics or medical ethics prevail? This documentary will raise confronting moral questions for the Australian government, the medical profession and the Australian people.