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Australia snubs doc and Down Syndrome son

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Australia snubs doc and Down Syndrome son
An undated family photo of Dr. Bernhard Moeller and his two sons. Photo: DPA
10:28 CET+01:00
Australia's decision to deny a German-born doctor permanent residency because his son has Down Syndrome sparked outrage Friday from disability groups who described the system as "archaic."

Dr. Bernhard Moeller, who has worked in rural Victoria for two years amid a chronic shortage of doctors in country areas, has been knocked back by the immigration department because of his 13-year-old son's condition.

"I'm really disappointed that the government encouraged people to come here and fill the gap and tells people that their son is a burden for the society," Moeller told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "That's really disappointing, saddening and unfair because I am doing a lot for the Australian community and I am happy to do that."

The immigration department's decision is based on a system which has been in place for more than two decades and which can deny migrants permanent residency if they or their family fail to meet health requirements.

In Moeller's case, his younger son Lukas' condition means that he could place a burden on tax-payer funded services in the future, the department said.

"It has nothing to do with the fact that he has Down Syndrome per se, it can be any condition that potentially has a long term financial impact on the Australian community," the department's Peter Vardos told a press conference.

Vardos said Moeller, who leads the intensive care of patients and supervises other general practitioners in a region of some 54,000 residents, had a valid visa to work in Australia until 2010 and could appeal the decision via an independent review committee.

"He is not being chased out of the country or asked to leave," he said.

The case prompted the support group Down Syndrome Victoria to call for a review of the policy, saying the government has discriminated against Lukas.

"The department's assessment appears to be based on archaic notions of intellectual disability rather than a comprehensive individualised assessment process," chief executive Catherine McAlpine said. "The department also appears to have focused only on potential costs and taken no account of the contribution this young man and his family will make to the community."

Down syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality, caused by the presence of one or part of an extra chromosone, and causes mental retardation, slow physical development and an increased risk of health problems.

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