The refusal of two women Muslim students to participate in part of the Medical education programme at Erasmus MC for religious reasons was upheld by the Appeals Tribunal for Higher Education (CBHO). According to the judge, the faculty of Medicine rejected their objection in the wrong way and must now reassess it.

The conflict concerns the course Practical-Clinical Skills (PKV), which involves a section where students are required to examine each other physically. The two students are willing to participate in this section, but do not wish to be examined by a male student. Nor do they want their bodies to be seen by a male teacher.

However, the faculty of Medicine regards this as an essential part of the subject. The Dean rejected the students’ request to be exempted, after which they appealed to the CBHO. According to the judge, however, the Dean should not have been allowed to take that decision.

The judge has therefore only issued judgement about the procedure that was followed and not about the substance of the case. “The decision taken by the Dean on 16 September 2014 should be annulled”, the judgement reads. According to the judge, the Dean should not have taken the decision, but the examination board, which is responsible for deciding on exemptions. The board may now address this case.

It is not clear when the examination board will study this difficult problem. However, in its deliberations, the judge instructs the board to ‘expressly consider the (…) appeal to their fundamental rights referred to by the appellants. The students feel that they are eligible for exemption from this part of the course on the basis of the constitutional principle of inviolability of the human body and freedom of religion. The judge leaves the judgement on this issue to the examination board. ES