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Draw the line or cross it?

Extremist Muslim medical students make Phil take stock of his own moral boundaries

Extremist Muslim medical students make Phil take stock of his own moral boundaries

Sometimes it's hard to think up a subject to write about in this column. Other times it's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Occasionally, and this week is an example, it's like shooting a 20-pound cod that's strapped to the end of your shotgun (more of which later).

This week I read about a small number of Muslim medical students who refuse to attend lectures about the effects of alcohol on the human frame. Not only that, they refuse to have anything to do with any disease that might be alcohol related or sexually transmitted. In one extreme example, I read about a Muslim student who refused, in his finals examination, to examine a woman.

I struggle to understand the mindset of a man (it doesn't specify that it's a man, but I suspect it is) who thinks he can enter a publicly funded British profession and refuse to interact with 60% of the patients who might want to consult with him, but I don't worry about it unduly.

The duties of a medical practitioner in this country are clearly set out in a GMC publication called The Duties Of A Doctor. I expect, in fact I insist, that the medical school of which he was formerly an undergraduate rushed the fool out into the street so fast that his feet didn't touch the ground. I sincerely hope that the dean gave him a solid kick up the arse on the way out for wasting our time, money and teaching resources.

I confidently expect that the rest of these self-centred arseholes will also be given the bum's rush. Can we afford to have physicians with self-determined boundaries to their compassion? Just who decides which patient they will leave bleeding in the road? Away with them. We'll have none of them.

While I don't think this is any serious threat to our profession, it did make me think about the moral boundaries that we as medical practitioners might or might not be expected to cross. We all have our limits. And this made me remember mine.

Some time in the mid-90s, I came to the conclusion that guns were a bad thing, and that I, as a physician, could not in all honesty stand up and say that any man was worthy of a shotgun licence. After all, guns are merely tools of mass destruction. Our society could do without them. I would stand up and be counted. No man, or woman, would get a reference for a shotgun licence out of me.

Years passed, and no-one came to ask me for a shotgun licence reference. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, living, as I do, in inner-city Sunderland. Eventually, I began to change my mind; guns were no more morally culpable than any other tool, and I had no more right to ban them then I had, say, a hammer.

I decided, after much thought, that I would give a reference to any sensible person who approached me for one; gun crimes tend not to be committed by people with gun licences. More years passed, and still no-one asked. I became seriously disgruntled. In 15 years, no-one has ever asked. On no occasion have I had the opportunity to make a moral stand.

My moral position is in no way equivalent to that of our extremist minority of Muslim brethren, of course. It's all a matter of degree. These people don't deserve the privilege of a British medical practitioner's licence. I do, because I'll treat anybody. Whether they want a gun, or have a gun, or not.

Phil Peverley

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