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Tips on avoiding a clash between religious practice and medical care

Gurwinder Gill, Director Patient Relations & Diversity, left, during a meeting with patient Satvir Sodhi at William Osler Health Centre in Brampton on May 22, 2013.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

This is part of a series on how the diverse and growing city of Brampton, Ont., provides lessons for Canada's future.

As Brampton's population grew, so did the myriad requests for religious accommodations at Brampton Civic Hospital, which is part of William Osler Health System. While equity director Gurwinder Gill's mantra is "It's always best to ask the patient," the diversity services team she leads prepared guides for staff on Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism and how to navigate situations where religious practice might affect medical care. Here's a sampling of tips:

  • Many Sikh men and women consider their hair to be a gift from God, which should not be cut. The diversity services team recommends clinical staff should avoid “at all cost” cutting any hair off a patient’s body unless it’s necessary for a life-saving medical treatment.
  • The team notes that Muslim headcoverings – the hijab, niqab and burka – can be removed if necessary for medical care, but clinicians should be aware that female patients may ask that a male relative be present while they are uncovered.
  • Patients are always asked about allergies before doctors or nurses give them medicine, but the hospital suggests taking it one step further with Muslim patients. Since many do not consume pig products or alcohol, medications that include gelatine, alcohol or bovine-derived ingredients should be avoided when possible (though they’re acceptable if there’s no alternative).
  • Some Jews like to light two special candles on Fridays to mark the start of the Sabbath. Since hospital fire codes restrict burning candles in patient rooms, the hospital suggests using electric light bulbs as a stand-in.
  • Many Hindus use their right hand for eating and their left for toileting, so doctors and nurses should try to avoid “hindering a patient’s hand or movement in any way” before they perform either act.
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About the Author

Dakshana Bascaramurty is a national news reporter who writes about race and ethnicity. She won a 2013 National Newspaper Award in beat reporting for her coverage of changing demographics in the 905 region. Previously, she was a feature writer for Globe Life. More

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