Flat White

Ivermectin and the doctor-patient relationship

2 August 2021

12:23 PM

2 August 2021

12:23 PM

At the outset, let’s make one thing clear. I do not share the absolute conviction of some who advocate the drugs ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as prophylactics or treatment for Covid-19.

The court is out on them. Studies are inconclusive. Health authorities around the world are set against them and, from a purely realistic perspective, this claimed treatment horse has bolted as the heavily-backed nag, vaccine, has bolted home in a canter. I would refuse the treatment if it were offered to me.

But the report in this week’s magazine by Rebecca Weisser, who has written extensively for more than a year about the perceived potential of ivermectin and HCQ, gives cause for everyone to be disturbed, whatever one’s view of the validity of these drugs’ Covid-related applications.

Weisser told how the young Brazilian woman who died in Sydney, with Covid, a week ago died when ‘she was unable to access the life-saving early treatment her family desperately sought to provide’.


The treatment recommended by the family’s doctors as a triple-drug therapy headed by ivermectin.  But the doctor was prevented from treating the woman when she was admitted to hospital, and presumably because of this recommended treatment.  Sadly, she succumbed to her illness.

If her doctor has New South wales public hospital visiting rights and was prevented from visiting his own patient to give treatment, that raises questions in its own right.  But if the woman herself (or her family if she was not able to do so) clearly had consented to that the treatment her specialist doctor recommended, but was denied access to it, the NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, has definite questions to answer.

One thing the Australian Medical Association not only takes very seriously, but rams down our throat at every opportunity, is the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and its freedom from third-party interference.

If a doctor recommends a particular treatment, and the patient consents to it, that is entirely a matter between them.  It should not involve health ministers, public hospital administrators or anyone else beyond those two people. Provided the doctor accepts he is ultimately accountable for his advice, and the treatment he recommends is legally available and administered in a way that does not threaten the patient’s life, then it is a matter for doctor and patient alone.  It doesn’t matter others may think the treatment is wrong or pointless.

In this case, ivermectin is lawfully available. Indeed, it is on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for other indications: even if not PBS-subsided for this particular purpose, it could still be obtained as a private prescription. If the woman’s treating doctor was prepared to accept responsibility for his advice, and the woman or her family on her behalf were prepared to try it, they should not have been precluded from doing so.

The recommended ivermectin-containing therapy may or may not have saved the woman as its supporters believe. But it was not for third parties to decide for her because they disapproved.

Mere words should not override the privity of the doctor-patient relationship. If federal and state health authorities are convinced ivermectin and HCQ should be kept away from Covid cases, they should stop parroting the authorities they prefer to cite and act to ban them explicitly for this purpose, thereby putting their money where their mouths are by allowing their decisions to be legally challenged.

Terry Barnes is a former adviser to Tony Abbott during his time as health minister. He edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.

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