A Manitoba physician's reluctance to take on a lesbian couple as clients is a clear sign there is work yet to be done to educate people about unacceptable discrimination. Spreading the word is a particularly important job of the professional licensing bodies whose members provide services to the public.

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This article was published 27/1/2009 (4626 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

A Manitoba physician's reluctance to take on a lesbian couple as clients is a clear sign there is work yet to be done to educate people about unacceptable discrimination. Spreading the word is a particularly important job of the professional licensing bodies whose members provide services to the public.

 

A Winnipeg married couple has complained to the College of Physicians and Surgeons about a doctor who refused to accept them as clients because of their sexual orientation. The two women said Dr. Kamelia Elias told them she had a problem treating a same-sex couple; Dr. Elias said she did not refuse to treat them, but suggested they look for a physician with experience treating lesbians.

Dr. Elias' belief that she lacks experience to treat gay women who "get a lot of diseases and infections" seems a tacit admission she is personally, rather than medically, constrained to deliver health care to the couple. Doctors can no more refuse to treat a gay woman than they can turn away a black woman. The college's code of conduct reinforces that fact, outlining the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Manitobans may be somewhat complacent in thinking that human rights legislation passed about 20 years ago is part of the social fabric -- all citizens may not agree that such discrimination is wrong, but most should know their obligations under the law. Manitoba, however, is increasingly accepting immigrants from countries that do not share the liberal democratic ideals that underpin Canada's social, legal and political conventions. It is better that newcomers get the hard landing on cultural norms in this country early, to avoid painful disputes or protracted legal battles after they've settled into their professions.

The college recently expanded its cultural orientation course for foreign-trained doctors to four weeks from one week, but that means many doctors may have received a scant overview of their obligations to patients before hanging out their shingles here.

Other professional bodies should find this incident instructive and review their courses, too. The Manitoba Human Rights Commission should launch a broad and persistent public education campaign to remind all citizens that discrimination is against the law. Regardless of where discrimination may spring from, when it comes to providing service to the public all prejudice must be checked at the door.