DETROIT (AP) -- It's been called one of medicine's "open secrets" — allowing patients to refuse treatment by a doctor or nurse of another race.
In the latest example, a white man with a swastika tattoo insisted that black nurses not be allowed to touch his newborn. That led several black nurses to sue the Michigan hospital, claiming it bowed to his illegal demands, and a rapid settlement in one of their lawsuits.The Michigan cases are among several lawsuits filed in recent years that highlight this seldom-discussed issue, which quietly persists almost 60 years after the start of the civil rights movement.
The American Medical Association's ethics code bars doctors from refusing to treat people based on race, gender and other criteria, but there are no specific policies for handling race-based requests from patients.
"In general, I don't think honoring prejudicial preferences ... is morally justifiable" for a health care organization, said Dr. Susan Goold, a University of Michigan professor of internal medicine and public health. "That said, you can't cure bigotry ... There may be times when grudgingly acceding to a patient's strongly held preferences is morally OK."
Those times could include patients who have been so traumatized — by rape or combat, for instance — that accommodating their request would be preferable to forcing on them a caregiver whose mere presence might aggravate the situation, she said.