Last Update: 30/01/2013 17:46
Obstetrician and gynaecologist
10 December 1918 - October 2009
Bill Faris was an important figure in the service for women in
Auckland during the latter part of the 20th century. He was born in
Dunedin on 10 December, 1918 and, after his secondary education at
the New Plymouth Boys High School from 1930 to 1935, he was awarded
a Taranaki Travelling Scholarship which he used to go to the
University of Otago in 1936. He graduated MB ChB in 1947 and
gained general registration in March 1942.
After graduation he joined the New Zealand Army then transferred
to New Zealand Air Force, he went overseas to serve in the New
Hebrides and was in an air force plane that went down into the sea
near a remote island. With the others, Bill survived for four days
before being rescued by a Catalina Flying Boat.
After serving as a registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology in
Dunedin Public hospital he was awarded a Doris Gordon travelling
scholarship which took him to Crown Street Women's hospital in
Sydney, followed by postgraduate study in the United Kingdom. He
gained the MRCOG in 1949 and the Edinburgh FRCS in 1950. In
the UK he met Gabrielle, another New Zealander, whom he married in
Wellington in 1952. They had two daughters and four sons, none of
whom went into medicine.
Returning to New Zealand he went into general practice in
Takapuna, in partnership with his father and, about two years later
was appointed to a fulltime position at what was the Cornwall
hospital, later to become National Women's hospital, participating
in clinical work, teaching and research. He was appointed to the
part-time staff in 1955 and built up a private practice in central
Auckland. He continued to study, gaining the FRACS in 1961, the
same year as he was awarded the FRCOG. Bill was foundation member
of the RNZCOG and retired from practice in 1990.
The position he held included Head of one of the clinical teams
at National Women's and from 1963 to 1983 was medical
superintendent at St Helens hospital, which provided excellent
experience and training in maternity care. He was a member of the
New Zealand Council of the RCOG between 1956 and 1969. He was an
elected member of the Auckland Hospital Board, serving as deputy
chairman during the late 1970s. For his services to medicine Bill
was awarded the Queens Service Order in 1977.
He enjoyed skiing and spending time on his small farm in South
Auckland but his retirement was marred by censure from the Medical
Council in the wake of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into
allegations concerning the treatment of cervical cancer and into
other related matters. Bill Faris was a member of the sub-committee
that was established in 1975 at National Women's hospital to review
the care of women with cervical dysplasia and, subsequently, was
found guilty of "conduct unbecoming a medical practitioner" in July
1995 - 20 years later.
The relatively minor nature of the breach is demonstrated by the
modest penalty of a fine of $500.00. Despite this, Bill continued
to deny that he was in any way responsible, pointing out that the
programme had stopped two years before he and a colleague were
asked to read certain selected cases.
The Medical Council relied heavily on the report of the
Committee of Inquiry, itself flawed and inaccurate in many ways -
the censure of Bill Faris was unfair and yet could not be
challenged. The sub-committee ended the observational study
conducted by Associate Professor Herb Green and the recent
publication by historian Linda Bryder called "A History of the
Unfortunate Experiment at National Women's hospital" has
contributed reality and a balance.
This includes the comment "The Cartwright Inquiry was not just
about the research of one individual and his approach to female
patients, it was the combination of a clash of ideologies and
approaches to medicine, with women's bodies having become highly
It is a shame that Bill Faris did not live long enough to see
this book, nor to have his fine contribution to obstetrics and
gynaecology fully recognised.
Prepared by MAH(Tony) Baird FRANZCOG with assistance from Bill's
sister, Felicity Tompkins.