When faith and health care clash for French Muslims
A 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.”
The 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.