In a recent debate in the House of Lords, the General Medical Council (GMC) came under scrutiny for what some perceived as the erasure of the terms ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ from its internal guidance related to maternity and menopause policies for staff members. The debate was initiated by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who raised concerns about the implications of these language changes for medical professionals’ treatment and descriptions of patients.
The GMC, established in 1858, holds the official register of over 374,000 doctors in the UK and sets standards for medical professionals and schools, ensuring patient safety. However, the policies in question pertain to GMC staff rather than the doctors it regulates.
During the debate, Lord Markham, a parliamentary under secretary of state at the department of health and social care, emphasized the importance of acknowledging biological sex in healthcare. He stated that “removing language around biological sex has the potential for unintended and adverse health consequences,” a sentiment echoed by some peers.
Baroness Hayter expressed dissatisfaction with Lord Markham’s response and called for engagement between the government and the GMC to address concerns over its internal language guidance. She argued that the language used by the GMC matters significantly in its oversight, training, and interviews of doctors.
GMC Clarifies Its Position
Following the debate, PinkNews reached out to the GMC to clarify when and if the words ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ had been removed from their internal policies. A GMC spokesperson shared copies of their maternity and menopause policies, revealing that these documents had not undergone specific changes to remove gendered language.
The menopause policy, published in 2021, retained all female descriptors. The maternity policy, which has remained largely unchanged for over a decade, had only one alteration in 2018, changing ‘surrogate mother’ to ‘surrogate’ and later to ‘surrogate parent’ in 2021.
The GMC stressed its commitment to inclusive, person-centered language in policies, emphasizing regular consultations with staff to ensure alignment with legislation and societal changes.
Context Amidst Controversy
This debate surrounding the GMC’s language change is situated within a broader context of discussions about gender-neutral language and the perceived erasure of women. Such debates have gained momentum amid growing backlash against trans-inclusive policies and the transgender community, amplified by mainstream media and political discourse.
This controversy echoes a similar situation involving Oxfam, where the charity faced criticism for its Inclusive Language Guide. Oxfam clarified that the guide was not prescriptive and intended to respect individual preferences regarding gendered terms. It is essential to continue these discussions while recognizing the complexities surrounding language and gender in contemporary society.