Doctor refused to treat Muslim woman because she wouldn’t shake his hand

A Muslim woman in southern Sweden has filed a complaint with the Equality Ombudsman because a doctor refused to treat her after she wouldn’t shake his hand for religious reasons.

The incident took place in Malmö last spring when the woman was referred to a specialist by her own doctor as she was suffering stomach pain. According to the Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen – DO) the woman did not have any issue with being examined by a man. However, when the specialist reached out to shake her hand she refused the gesture, arguing it was against her religious beliefs.

“She decided not to shake his hand and instead placed her hand against her own chest and nodded to him which she considered to be a courteous gesture,” Clas Lundstedt, spokesman for the Equality Ombudsman, told The Local. “The specialist took offence and refused to treat her. It was later put into her medical journal that in the future she would be treated by a woman.”

The woman did not stipulate that she wanted a female doctor but did bring the hand-shaking incident to the attention of the DO which launched an investigation. According to a statement on the Equality Ombudsman’s website the incident is considered a form of discrimination associated with the woman’s religious beliefs. “Everyone has the right to medical care regardless of their religion or beliefs and it is completely unreasonable to deny a person access to medical care with reference to the patient’s way of greeting,” Agneta Broberg at the Equality Ombudsman wrote in a statement.

Clas Lundstedt told The Local that the DO expected that the woman’s case, which the ombudsman is pursuing, would be a heard in court next year. The specialist whose hand the woman refused to shake is understood to still work in Malmö, and it remains unclear what charge, if any, he could may face The Equality Ombudsman (DO) is a government agency that seeks to combat discrimination on grounds of sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age.

The Local, 6 December 2013