As physicians encounter an increasingly diverse patient population, socioeconomic circumstances, religious values and cultural practices may present barriers to the delivery of quality care. Increasing cultural competence is often cited as a way to reduce healthcare disparities arising from value and cultural differences between patients and providers. Cultural competence entails not only a knowledge base of cultural practices of disparate patient populations, but also an attitude of adapting one's practice style to meet patient needs and values. Gender roles, relationship dynamics and boundaries are culture specific, and are frequently shaped by religious teachings. Consequently, religion may be conceptualised as a cultural repertoire, or dynamic tool-kit, by which members of a faith adapt and negotiate their identity in multicultural societies. The manner in which Islamic beliefs and values inform Muslim healthcare behaviours is relatively under-investigated. In an effort to explore the impact of Islam on the relationship between patients and providers, we present an Islamic bioethical perspective on cross-gender relations in the patient-doctor relationship. We will begin with a clinical scenario highlighting three areas of gender interaction that bear clinical relevance: dress code, seclusion of members of the opposite sex and physical contact. Next, we provide a brief overview of the foundations of Islamic law and ethical deliberation and then proceed to develop ethicolegal guidelines pertaining to gender relations within the medical context. At the end of this reflection, we offer some practice recommendations that are attuned to the cultural sensitivities of Muslim patient populations.
- gender relations
- religious ethics
- education for health care professionals
- moral and religious aspects
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