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Lesbians a mystery to city MD

Couple alleges doctor refused to take them as patients

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/1/2009 (3009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A same-sex couple has filed a human rights complaint against a south Winnipeg doctor, claiming she refused to take them as patients and told them she doesn't know how to treat lesbians.

Andrea and Ginette Markowski, who recently moved to Winnipeg from Yellowknife, were stunned last week when a family doctor at Lakewood Medical Centre suggested the couple look for another physician since homosexuality violates her religious beliefs.

The legally married couple also claim the doctor said she has no experience treating lesbians.

Ginette (left) and Andrea Markowski have filed a human rights complaint against a Winnipeg doctor, saying she refused to take them as patients.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ginette (left) and Andrea Markowski have filed a human rights complaint against a Winnipeg doctor, saying she refused to take them as patients.

Andrea Markowski said she and her partner of 18 years made an appointment with Dr. Kamelia Elias after they heard she was accepting new patients. She said Elias started to take the couple's medical history and asked how long the women had been together -- at which point, the doctor told them she's never treated lesbians before.

Markowski said she asked Elias whether treating a same-sex couple was a problem for her, and alleges Elias said yes.

Elias told the Free Press she has no experience treating lesbians and gays who sometimes have "sexual problems" and other diseases. Elias practised medicine in Egypt before spending four years in Steinbach and said she's never treated gays or lesbians in her two decades as a physician.

"They get a lot of diseases and infections," Elias said during a phone interview. "I didn't refuse to treat them, I said it's better to find someone who has experience and will take this type of patients. There (are) some doctors who can treat them."

Shelly Smith, executive director of Rainbow Resource Centre, said lesbians actually have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, which are more commonly transmitted by men. However, she said gynecological health is still important for women in same-sex relationships and that rates of breast cancer tend to be higher among lesbians since they may not bear children.

The couple has filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

"We were so shocked," Andrea said. "It's kind of ironic. We came to the big city to get discriminated against."

Manitoba doctors can accept or refuse a patient based on their current patient load, but can't discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dianna Scarth, executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, would not confirm a complaint had been filed. But she maintained doctors and other health-care providers can't refuse to treat people based on their sexual orientation under the human rights code.

Andrea said she and Ginette were upset at Elias's reaction to their sexual orientation and told Elias that she should pursue further education. The couple received an apologetic phone call from a Lakewood Medical Centre director over the weekend, and said the clinic offered to link them with another physician.

"We just decided we don't feel comfortable going back there," Markowski said. "They've got a pretty serious problem on their hands with this doctor."

College registrar Bill Pope said the orientation process for international medical graduates has been recently extended from one week to four weeks, to ensure that foreign-trained doctors learn about Canadian culture and codes of conduct.

In some cases, Pope said some physicians have never performed pelvic exams on women, since it's not allowed in certain cultures.

He said an increasing number of physicians coming to Manitoba are from the Middle East and southeast Asia, where cultural barriers may hinder their understanding of Canadian norms.

"It was becoming clear that we're getting people from cultures that are very different from (ours), and you can't blame someone when your culture teaches you one thing, you can't understand what the expectations are in Canada," Pope said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

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