Should Patients Be Able to Choose Clinicians by Race or Gender?

December 11, 2019

Doctors are expected to provide the same standard of care without regard for race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. But sometimes patients want to choose their clinician based on these traits. In the outpatient setting, consumers have all of the information and freedom they need to select a doctor based on any number of biases. Within a hospital or health system, healthcare professionals can become entangled in discrimination when patients ask for their biases to be accommodated, writes New York Times Magazine ethics columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah. 

In one case, a man in Flint, Michigan, with a swastika tattoo announced to the neonatal intensive care unit that he didn't want a black nurse to touch his newborn baby. The hospital appeased him, and the nurse subsequently sued her employer for instituting racial bias. 

Not all gender or nationality-based requests are malevolent. It's reasonable to accommodate a patient who requests a doctor who speaks the same language, or a woman who is a sexual assault survivor and feels safer with a female gynecologist, Appiah suggests. The key difference is that these requests don't express disrespect. 

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