The second annual Free Speech in Medicine conference that took place at the end of October in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, had a primary mission of fostering open dialogue and critical inquiry into challenging and contentious medical topics.
“This year we talked about medical assistance in dying, gender issues, drug policies, and those are difficult issues,” explains organizer and emergency room physician Chris Milburn.
“If you go to a standard medical conference, you’re going to get one side on [those topics] and that’s the side of public health – the side that the government has approved. Many people behind the scenes don’t agree with that, and many researchers don’t actually agree with that, but you won’t hear that at a normal medical conference, you’ll just hear the party line. We came together this weekend to talk about those difficult things.”
“If you don’t use your rights, you lose them,” added another attendee, “so this is a major aspect of actually exercising our rights and the more we do that, the better shape we’ll be in.”
Dr. Matthew Tucker, a family and emergency physician with decades of service in the military, says that “a culture of free and fair discussion and debate is crucial, especially after everything that we lived through for the last three years.”
Another concerned citizen says that he felt as though he was being told propaganda or untrue messaging over what was going on throughout the COVID-19 response as it pertained to certain medical information.
General surgeon Dr. Ben Turner says that we can have certainty on some things, like in geometry, but never entirely when it comes to the human body, which is why expressing and discussing opposing points of view is crucial. “If you only have one side, you lose all of that,” he says. “If you only hear one point of view in medicine, you know it’s not going to be correct.”
Molecular biologist Laura Braden said it was important to connect with people of like mind. “Asking questions in these very important topic areas is hard to do,” she says. “As a professional who has not been able to [speak freely] for a very long time, it’s been really amazing to connect with these people.”
Dr. Roy Eappen, an endocrinologist, says that the conference confirmed his impression that it’s good to be a heretic. “It’s interesting to see different points of view on all kinds of things,” explains Roy. “I didn’t necessarily agree with everyone’s point of view but the debate was respectful, it was vigorous, and I think that’s the way that we get to the truth.”
The conference underlines the vital role that open dialogue and respectful debate play in reaching consensus on complex medical topics.