Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Breastfeeding mom denied extra time

There is an interesting case being appealed before the National Board of Medical Examiners. This case is a gray area, blurred because it is framed by societal issues, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the health concerns of a nursing mother, playing out against the backdrop of the rigid enforcement structure of the Clinical Knowledge Exam.

Sophie Currier
Already has her Harvard doctorate and has followed that up with five years of medical training. The final barrier that is keeping her from having a hard-earned MD-Ph.D. is the aforementioned exam.
(Note: registration is required to read this Boston Globe article, but it is free and easy.)

To understand this case fully, you need to know that Currier is the mother of a still nursing, 7-week old daughter. According to the article linked above, “If she does not pump milk from her breasts every two or three hours, she could suffer blocked ducts, the discomfort of hard breasts, or an infection called mastitis.”

Currier is receiving accommodations for dyslexia and attention problems. This includes giving her double time for the nine-hour exam, letting her take the test over a two-day period. On the surface, this may appear to help ameliorate her problems, but it only doubled them, allowing her only the normally allowed break times each day.

She asked the board last week for extra break time to allow her to pump her breasts, but was denied. The board cited the Americans with Disabilities Act as their guide and told her that breastfeeding was not among the covered disabilities.

Yes, it is true that, under the ADA, pregnancy, lactation and related actions such as breast feeding and breast pumping are not covered by the law. However, what they are dealing with in this case are health concerns of the mother. Granted, the short time that she will be subjected to testing is not guaranteed to incur the possible adverse physical results that are possible. Still, there are health concerns that are not necessarily disabilities, no matter how temporary the condition is.

According to the article, “Forty-seven states have passed laws that protect nursing mothers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many protect the right of mothers to breast-feed in public, and some exempt them from jury duty, where breaks can be few and unpredictable.” Unfortunately for Currier, Massachusetts, where her case is playing out, has no such laws at this time.

It is interesting that one of Currier’s advocates, Dr. Ruth Lawrence, is a chairwoman on the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, a medical professional is speaking on Currier’s behalf against the medical testing establishment. Ironic, isn’t it?

“Lawrence said the nursing mother of an infant that age should pump at a minimum of every three hours, for about one half-hour each time. The academy recommends that babies be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months .”

It is understandable that the exam board is trying to avoid setting a precedent, but they need to use the ADA as a guide, not a rigid rule that does not allow for gray areas such as this. A warden once had a sign hanging in his office that read, “When the rules and common sense collide, common sense shall prevail.” Currier’s case is one where common sense should be victorious.

Additional Reading:
Here is a 2006 Boston Globe article about Currier, illustrating how she manages her busy and demanding
life while dealing with dyslexia and ADHD.

No comments: