Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Persecution Against A 'Kind, Hard-Working' Nurse

Punishing a Nurse for God-Talk

“The first office of justice is to keep one man from doing harm to another,” wrote Marcus Tullius Cicero in his classic treatise De Officiis  (On Duties/Obligations). 
“What harm did Sister Sarah Kuteh do to her patients for the gavel of justice to smash her like a sledgehammer crushes an acorn?” the Roman statesman, orator, lawyer and philosopher would ask Martin Kurrein, the learned employment judge delivering the heavy-handed jolt of justice at Kuteh’s trial
The mother-of-three born in Sierra Leone and commended by her colleagues as “a good, hard-working person and good with patients,” even “kind” and bringing “a different kind of experience,” was steamrollered by the wrath of the State not because she harmed her patients through medical negligence.
Sarah’s crime was to occasionally engage patients in small talk about religion.
Sarah sometimes extended a conversation on the question of the patient’s religion. If the patient was a practising Christian, she might engage in a chat along the lines of “what church do you go to?” If it seemed that the patient welcomed this kind of conversation, Sarah might share her own experience of how Jesus turned her life around.
If the patient indicated they did not want to talk about religion, she immediately applied the brake, said Kuteh, who was employed by the Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent.
As far back as I can remember, my doctors and other medical professionals in India and in Britain have always engaged in such innocuous chitchat when I pop in for treatment. If they see the dog collar around my neck, there’s often a question about which church I pastor. If I report a throat infection, there’s a conversation about my preaching. If I’m worn out, there’s mischievous banter about whether the bishop or the congregation is giving me a hard time. I love it!

Sarah had only one...formal complaint against her. This was from a patient who indulged in reminiscences of how he had sung in choirs, and sang Psalm 23 to Sarah over the half-completed NHS form. He later claimed she had pressurised him to sing; and it was only due to the shock that he failed to think of anything better than to oblige!

Singing “The Lord is my Shepherd” must have really triggered off some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in him and caused an awful lot of harm, eh, Cicero, old chap?

Sarah came under the cosh in April 2016 when her boss told her that three patients had “verbally” complained about her “inappropriate” conversations. The “complaints” were only recorded some three months after they were allegedly made. Two months later she was suspended pending a disciplinary investigation and told she had breached the Nursing and Midwifery Code by expressing her “personal beliefs (including political, religious or moral beliefs) to people in an inappropriate way” (20.7).
But the presence of a judge doesn’t assure justice any more than the presence of a cook guarantees a delicious meal and Judge Kurrein subverted the mechanism of a fair trial by refusing to allow Pavel Stroilov, Kuteh’s Christian Legal Centre advocate to discuss the definition and application of what was “inappropriate” in Sister Sarah’s god-talk.
If something is “inappropriate,” that implies, argued Stroilov, “appropriate” ways for a nurse to express her religious beliefs. “How do you understand the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate?” Stroilov asked the manager who dismissed Sarah.
You don’t need to be an Oxford Dictionary lexicographer to know that words like “appropriate” and “reasonable” are more slippery than eels in the Thames. The word takes its application from the circumstances and is really dependent on context. What is appropriate in one context or in one given circumstance may not be appropriate in another. There is no blanket, objective definition or application of “inappropriate,” unless it can be proved to be explicitly homophobic, bigoted, racist, sexist, intolerant, abusive or hateful.

Further, one person’s “appropriate” is another person’s “inappropriate.” Is a workplace discussion about who slept with whom at the office Christmas party appropriate or inappropriate? For a conservative Ghanaian, such sex-talk would be offensive. For a promiscuous Briton who has abandoned traditional sexual ethics, this is the staple of Channel 4’s Big Brother TV series.

To charge a human being with a crime is to shatter that person’s life. A defendant, even if acquitted, will never be the same again. One may be ostracized, bankrupt, unemployed, or unemployable, writes Bharara.
Kuteh’s career as a nurse is finished because Britain’s new morality deems it unacceptable, reprehensible, and immoral for Christians to talk about their faith in public.
Kuteh has been condemned by a Javert-like judge who betrayed his bias during the trial when he sneeringly said: “My knowledge about religion is lacking. I apologise if I offended anyone.”  
Is it just possible that Judge Kurrein was wreaking his own vengeance against the wrath of the State that had punished him for “inappropriate” behaviour?
On 12 July 2016, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office issued a statement against Kurrein. It stated: “Employment Judge Martin Kurrein was subject to a conduct investigation following a complaint about his behaviour during court proceedings.”
“The Lord Chancellor and the Senior President of the Tribunals considered that Judge Kurrein used both an inappropriate tone and inappropriate language with a party during the hearing over which he presided. They found that Judge Kurrein’s behaviour failed to demonstrate the standards expected of a judicial office holder and have issued him with formal advice.” (Italics mine)

Cicero would hardly applaud the Court of Appeal’s refusal to redress the injustice meted out to Sarah Kuteh in itsjudgement last week.

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