Religious discrimination in the selection of medical students: a
Issues in Law & Medicine Spring, 1996
Albert E. Gunn, George O. Zenner, Jr.
. . . only applicants opposed to [abortion or
sterilization] were subjected to special questioning concerning them. The
school claimed that applicants were queried about their only to evaluate a
capacity to identify relevant issues, but it is clear that the interviewers'
personal biases concerning abortion and sterilization influenced their
rating of the candidates.
In 1978 the Department of Health, Education and Welfare surveyed all
schools of medicine, nursing and osteopathy in the United States to
determine if any would deny admission to or otherwise discriminate against
applicants who were reluctant or unwilling to recommend or in any way
participate in abortion or sterilization. The Department also asked victims
of discrimination to contact the researchers, and organizations aware of
such incidents were asked to provide details. It appears that the results of
the study were never published.
The present study concerned one of the medical schools that routinely
questioned applicants about a hypothetical situation in which a
fourteen-year-old unmarried Catholic girl requested an abortion. The cases
described are a sampling of the interview reports in a particular admissions
year. The school was in a state in which the law required that applicants
for medical school should not be denied admission because of their views on
While there was no official policy at the school related to abortion or
sterilization, only applicants opposed to either procedure were subjected to
special questioning concerning them. The school claimed that applicants were
queried about their only to evaluate a capacity to identify relevant issues,
but it is clear that the interviewers' personal biases concerning abortion
and sterilization influenced their rating of the candidates. There seemed to
be an overall apprehension about any candidate with strong religious belief.
It is likely that applicants who opposed abortion or sterilization were
disadvantaged by the interview process. Contrary to the school's response to
the Department of Health, Education and Welfare survey, there were
complaints from applicants concerned about how they had been treated because
of their views.
Following complaints by a new dean of admissions and consultation with
the university's lawyer, abortion and religion were removed as topics for
consideration by the admissions committee. Thereafter, no records were kept
of applicants' religious views, nor was discussion permitted of them at
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*Provided by Protection of Conscience Project]