When faith and health care clash for French Muslims

June 12, 2008

Intensive care unit at Ambroise Pare hospital in Marseille, 8 April 2008/Jean-Paul PelissierA French Muslim who blocked a male doctor from performing an emergency caeserian on his wife has lost his bid to sue the hospital because his son was born handicapped, according to French press and radio reports. The court also ordered him to pay the court costs — €1,000 ($1,550) — because he kept the doctor from “performing the tests that could have prevented the serious neurological complications” that occurred. Coming shortly after the “virginity lie” controversy, this case has once again raised the question of if and how to accommodate religious demands from Muslims in France.

The law in French state hospitals is clear. Women can request women doctors and probably get them most of the time. But if the attending doctor that night is a man, as happened in this case, the woman — and in this case, her husband — have to accept that. When this woman went into labour in November 1998, the couple rushed to a hospital in Bourg-en-Bresse and a midwife examined her. She recognised a complication and called the doctor, but the husband physically blocked him for half an hour because he did not want a strange man touching his wife. By the time he gave in, it was too late for a caeserian and the baby had to be delivered by foreceps. Little Mohammed is now 100% handicapped.

The father sued the hospital for €100,000 in damages and €10,000 in personal compensation. The court rejected this and blamed the father, saying: “The child’s state is totally attributable to the attitude of Mr. Radouane Ijjou.”

A hospital emergency room, 14 February 2006/Lee CelanoThe issue of Muslims demanding exceptions at state hospitals has been an issue in France since 2003, when the Stasi Commission (whose hearings led to the headscarf ban in state schools) heard doctors say a growing number of Muslim men refused to let male doctors treat their wives. There were stories of fistfights between husbands and doctors — including one non-fatal stabbing — and husbands driving from emergency room to emergency room searching for a female doctor to treat a wife in desperate need of medical attention. But while these stories appeared from time to time in the media, it was hard to get clear facts on specific cases. My impression was that there was a definate problem, with some very worrying cases, but it was not as widespread as the French media seemed to say it was.

This is a clear case that has gone through the legal system. I think the judge was 100% correct in not only rejecting this suit but throwing the blame back on that irresponsible father’s shoulders. He — and his wife, and especially his son — is the victim of a kind of folk Islam that confused cultural traditions with faith. Several Muslim scholars and chaplains I spoke to while researching other cases said they could have given him a litany of Koran quotes to prove that his wife’s and son’s health came first. One doctor I met once had the Paris Grand Mosque fax over a fatwa to convince a Muslim couple to perform an emergency abortion.

Have you seen cases of faith vs. health care clashes in your local media? Do they look like hearsay or are they well sourced? I think this is less serious than it’s made out to be, but when it’s serious — like in this case — it can be tragic.


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Posted by Ringing my bell « The Cultural Anarchlyst | Report as abusive

If Muslim men are stabbing doctors and having fist-fights with doctors over some crazy Muslim honor code (or thinking that a man, especially an infidel man can’t touch their female family member, or would they be their property?) I think it’s pretty damn serious!

Posted by Stephanie | Report as abusive

It is very sad to see those unacceptable behaviors from our muslim followers. Islam is a religion of flexibility and tolerence. it is meant to make the humanity happy by simplifying their way of life.When muslims wast their energy and efforts on what i called treshhold then they need to put their efforts on educating themselves on islam, so they could have a clear understanding of it and stop giving the media something to talk about it.

Posted by ibnhamdiss | Report as abusive

The heart of the Christian religion is repentance and forgiving. When people accuse us we are taught to refute them by our goodness and not by violence. We are to turn the other check. The basis of Mohammed’s teaching as I understand it from two separate readings interpreting it for me is not forgiveness but paying for your sin with what he mistook as good deeds. That included some deeds that made me ill at heart. You can not solve a problem unless you first identify it. Your culture reflects bad and cruel teachings from your prophet and that is the problem you ignore.

Posted by marjoriewhite | Report as abusive