Times Online (England), Feb. 17, 2003
By Glen Owen, Education Correspondent
Medical schools have started restricting the admission of Muslim students after complaints that they are forcing doctors to abandon the teaching of certain subjects on religious grounds.
The action comes after an increase in the proportion of medical students coming from the ethnic minorities from 10 per cent to 33 per cent over the past two decades.
The refusal of Muslim students to learn about some procedures, such as abortion, has become a cause for concern, according to the Council of Heads of Medical Schools. Academics say that some tutors have started to manipulate admissions after complaints that students who wanted to follow traditional medical syllabuses were becoming an “endangered species”.
One academic, who did not wish to be identified, said that some doctors had complained that “a vocal minority” of Muslim students were making it hard to teach the traditional syllabus. “Many of the students oppose abortion, while others have said that they would refuse to treat venereal diseases because they are a punishment for immorality.”
He said that he had personally faced problems over the marking of examination papers. One Muslim student complained that he had been penalised for writing an answer on contraception that was compatible with his belief, rather than the syllabus.
A second academic said: “Most doctors hope that the surge in Muslim numbers will just go away as an issue. Only a few are prepared to talk about it.”
Under guidelines released by the General Medical Council, medical schools have discretion to tailor their examination requirements to match the religious sensitivities of their students.
Jafer Qureshi, executive member of the Muslim Doctors’ and Dentists’ Association, said that many tutors at medical schools “had still not got the message” that there were things that Muslim students would refuse to do. “We will not carry out abortions for non-medical reasons, and we do not agree with fertility procedures such as donor sperm and surrogacy,” he said yesterday. “We have also fought tooth and nail against the British Medical Association (BMA) on the subject of euthanasia, which is taught in the schools as part of medical ethics courses.”
Dr Qureshi wrote recently to Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, about euthanasia, stating: “Muslim doctors will not be led by the present BMA. We will be doing everything in our power to ensure that the Muslim community in Britain are made fully aware of the situation and of developments in this field.”
Michael Powell, executive secretary of the Council, denied that quotas had been introduced, but admitted tutors were concerned about the pattern of applications. “You could reasonably say that a medical profession that was drawn 100 per cent from one ethnic minority would not serve the needs of the whole population,” he said.
Research carried out by Christopher McManus, Professor of Psychology and Medical Education at University College London, has been interpreted by some doctors as an indication that admissions are being manipulated. It shows that applicants to medical schools from ethnic minorities are more than two times less likely to be accepted than white applicants.
Professor McManus said that the move to manipulate entry figures had provoked furious debate among doctors: opponents have pointed to evidence that, apart from their lower chance of being accepted, ethnic students also stand a lower chance of promotion.