By: Amirah Breen 

I have ten minutes to see the doctor and it will take all of that and more to discuss my concerns. I tell her I’ve been feeling tired lately. The doctor narrows her eyes at me and says in a condescending tone, then says: ‘You’re wearing a headscarf. I haven’t seen you wearing a headscarf before. How long have you been wearing a headscarf?’

I am shocked. When I object to her line of questioning, she tells me that she was just trying to make pleasant conversation. I calmly tell her that it makes me feel angry when I go to the doctor to discuss my health, and she wants to talk about my religion instead.

She picks up her pen and starts writing, saying out loud: ‘I shall write on your notes “Patient was angry”.’

A short while later, still feeling tired, I see another doctor.

I tell the doctor I’ve been bleeding. Instead of answering my concerns, the doctor brings to my attention something from my medical notes back in 1998 which had never been mentioned to me since. I’m shocked. It was something relating to my marriage which took place in 1985. Then I am asked again:

‘Why did you start to wear the hijab?’

After a house move and surgery, I have another doctor’s appointment. I tell the doctor I have been bleeding constantly for three months and feel so tired and weak that I can barely look after myself.

The doctor tells me I am depressed.

‘Well there is nothing we can do for you except send you to a psychiatrist,’ he says.

I say I don’t need that.

‘Why are you wearing hijab?’ The old question lingers in my mind.

After seeing every doctor in the surgery to no avail, I change to another surgery.

In another appointment, I see a young doctor not long out of training, a locum. I tell her I have been losing blood for nine months, almost every day for nine months. She looks me directly in the eyes and asks: ‘Are you scared of cancer?’.

I have no response at all. I have my faith.

The PREVENT duty violates the Hippocratic Oath

The first general assembly of the World Medical Association was held in London in 1947. Due to concern about medical experiments and contraventions of medical ethics committed against Jewish people in concentration camps during the second world war, the Declaration of Geneva, which builds on the principals of the Hippocratic Oath, was formed and adopted at the second assembly in Geneva later that year.

Paragraph 9 reads: ‘I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, social standing or any other factor to intervene between my duty and my patient’. It is taken today as an oath by most medical students across the world before they graduate.

A few months after my operation, and after a flight back from Tel Aviv, my feet are swollen and I go to the hospital where they take a blood test. On the bus on the way back to Oxford I receive a phone call telling me that the test was positive and I should go straight to A&E.

I spend the night in the hospital waiting room and have another blood test and examination. As I get home, I am so tired; I have not slept for two days.

The phone rings, it’s my doctor’s voice. She tells me that the second test came out clear, and then she asks: ‘And why did you go to Israel?’

I retort: ‘Why don’t you just do the job for which you spent so many years studying, instead of trying to do the job of the police and MI5 instead?’

She sounded relieved at that, relieved of her PREVENT duty. She agrees with me.

The PREVENT duty undermines the Hippocratic Oath, because it stigmatises patients and encourages discrimination against patients, particularly Muslims.

PREVENT is encouraging health professionals to spend time questioning patients about their religious and political beliefs. When we are questioned like this, we know very well that the motive for this questioning is suspicion.

If a patient has been treated with suspicion, then they are discouraged from seeing a doctor when they are ill.

PREVENT is driving a wedge between ordinary people

The requirement on health professionals to report patients to counter “terrorism” when they have concerns about “radicalization” has done nothing to prevent political violence.

Rather, PREVENT is an experiment which legitimizes the profiling of children, patients and people who are just trying to practice their religion.

This results in a perpetual sense of being monitored.

PREVENT is preventing integration, replacing it with interrogation and exacerbating the root causes of terrorism by causing alienation, fear and in some cases, anger.

Disenfranchising people while priming British society with Islamophobia through this binding legal duty, has allowed people who are ignorant or fearful of Islam to run off their prejudices against Muslims.

On my way to town this morning I stopped at a petrol station to fill my car and went to pay. The cashier smiled: ‘Which pump love?” she said, in a pleasant tone, and then she added: ‘What religion are you?’.

At one time I would have welcomed the interaction, but now the first thought which goes through my mind is: ‘Has she done her Prevent training?’

I feel invaded again. I wonder: ‘Has it been extended to petrol pump attendants?’

I smile back at her and say, ‘Muslim’.

She responds with another pleasant smile and says ‘Oh, so you’re Muslim. Are you married to an Indian?’.

I shake my head and say ‘No’, thank her for the change and leave.


CC image courtesy of Vic on Flikr

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