Two Sikh doctors have shaved their beards, a pillar of their religion, to continue treating Covid-19 patients

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Dr. Sanjeet Singh-Saluja after shaving his beard.

Their decision sparked a conversation between Sikhs, particularly health workers, who say that alternatives to shaving exist.

Dr Sanjeet Singh-Saluja, an emergency physician and physician at McGill University Health Center (MUHC) in Montreal, said he and his brother, also a doctor, have shaved their beards in order to properly wear N95 masks that offer protection. from the coronavirus.

“One of the pillars of the Sikh faith is the Seva, which is service to humanity. I have always seen my work at the MUHC as a possibility for me to meet the expectations of service of my faith,” said Singh-Saluja in a video explaining his decision.

“However, another pillar of faith, as many of you know, is Kesh, which is the practice of allowing one’s hair to grow naturally out of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. In this pandemic period, I am facing a existential crisis as the latter has severely limited my ability to serve “.

The brothers had to choose whether to not see Covid-19 patients until adequate protection was available or to shave their beards, Singh-Saluja said in the video. To honor their oaths as doctors and their religious duty to serve, the two doctors chose the latter.

“This is a decision made after many weeks of soul searching and many sleepless nights. This is a very difficult decision for us, and one that we consider necessary in this time of need,” said Singh-Saluja.

“This is a decision that left me with great sadness and I really mourn the loss of something that has been an important part of my identity.”

MUHC declined to comment, saying the brothers made “a personal decision”.

Sikh community rallies for alternatives

The brothers’ decision to shave their beards made an agreement with Sikhs across North America.

As the pandemic continues, other Sikh health workers can make similar decisions, simply because many hospitals do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) that could be used instead of face masks.

Controlled Air Purification Respirators (CAPR) and Powered Air Purification Respirators (PAPR) are two forms of respiratory protection devices designed to accommodate facial hair and protect the head, face, eyes and ears. of a worker.

But with hospitals already struggling with shortages of clothes, gloves, respirators and N95, CAPR and PAPR glasses, which are more expensive, they are even more difficult to find.

However, Sikh community organizations want healthcare professionals to know that there are alternatives to shaving.

Tuesday, the North American Sikh Medical and Dental Association (NASMDA) wrote a letter to members who announce they have collaborated with Sikh coalition, a group of rights, to provide support and legal assistance to healthcare professionals who are concerned about having to shave their beards to continue practicing medicine.

“It has come to our attention that many are discussing the decision of a Canadian Sikh doctor and his brother who choose to shave their beards to wear some personal protective equipment (PPE),” NASMDA said in the letter.

Frontline healthcare workers feel like they're slaughtered lambs & # 39;

“As fellow Sikh suppliers who also face this pandemic, we are deeply saddened to learn from anyone who has the feeling that they have to make this false choice and that they are unable to practice their faith without fear.”

NASMDA has said it does not want to pass judgment on the brothers, but what they have decided should not affect what other Sikh health workers are doing. The letter also states that the Sikh coalition could help workers obtain other forms of IPR, such as PAPR and CAPR.

“Sikh health workers should not be forced to make a choice between their career and their faith. Forcing people to compromise their constitutionally protected beliefs is unacceptable,” said Dr. Jaspal Singh, a professor of medicine at Atrium Health and Levine’s Cancer Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, told CNN.

“Hospitals and medical practices must recognize that Sikhs have a constitutionally and statutory right to freedom of religion in the workplace. Asking Sikhs to shave is not, in legal terms, the” least restrictive means “to allow them to maintain their religious beliefs and serve in their profession. There are multiple alternatives that Sikhs and others can and should be provided. “

The Sikh coalition has asked that any Sikh medical professional facing such decisions seek help.

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