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Project to document ethical issues in asylum seeker treatment

A new project at Monash University is documenting the significant ethical dilemmas faced by medical and other health care practitioners working in Australia's asylum seeker system.

Monash University's Dr Deborah Zion is heading the Caring for Asylum Seekers in Australia: Bioethics and Human Rights project.

"Australia's policy of mandatory detention has been criticised at home and abroad," Dr Zion said. "This research will bring together for the first time, in a systematic way, material about that policy by those who have seen its effects first hand.

"It will bring together practitioners who have worked in the field, many of whom have expressed the need for recording their experiences, and will develop guidelines about how to practise when human rights issues form part of clinical practice."

Dr Zion said ways of providing ethnically acceptable care to asylum seekers in Australia, whose rights were often severely compromised, caused significant dilemmas for those engaged in their treatment.

"This project will gather hitherto hidden information about the experiences of health care practitioners in the context of their relationships with asylum seekers," she said.

"In a practical sense, the lack of data regarding the ethical issues experienced by health care professionals in regard to this particular population makes this project highly significant.

"Interviewing practitioners who have worked with asylum seekers forms a cornerstone of the project. Without this information, the creation of adequate policy for the care and treatment of asylum seekers and those that care about them is impossible," Dr Zion said.

"Such studies as do exist suggest that both the quality and quantity of health care that persons receive is dependent on the goodwill of individual providers, rather than a result of government policy."

Dr Zion will be working with Monash University's Associate Professor Bebe Loff-a distinguished commentator, author and teacher of human rights-and Curtin University's Professor Linda Briskman, who convened the Peoples' Inquiry Into Detention.

The project, which has been funded by an Australian Research Council grant, will produce, among other things, a book and case bank for medical students and academics.

Research Australia. November 2006.

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