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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Judge rules against breastfeeding medical student

By Felicia Mello, Globe Correspondent

A Harvard medical student and new mother will not be permitted to take extra break time to pump breast milk during her exam to become a doctor, a judge ruled today.

Sophie Currier of Brookline sued the National Board of Medical Examiners Sept. 6, arguing the board violated her constitutional right to breastfeed by denying her more than the 45 minutes of rest periods allotted to all test takers.

Currier, who has a four-month-old daughter, must pass the exam before she can graduate and begin a residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital later this fall.

In a three-page opinion, Norfolk Superior Court Judge Patrick Brady said Currier could still find a way to expel her milk during the test or on regularly scheduled breaks.

"The plaintiff may take the test and pass, notwithstanding what she considers to be unfavorable conditions," Brady wrote. "The plaintiff may delay the test, which is offered numerous times during the year, until she has finished her breast-feeding and the need to express milk."

Currierís lawyer, Christine Smith Collins, said she will appeal the decision to a state court of appeals judge, who could still issue a ruling before Currier takes the exam next Monday.

"Basically the judge decided itís okay to tell women to wait until they are done being moms to become professionals, which as far as Iím concerned is not acceptable in this day and age,Ē Collins said.

The board has offered to allow Currier to bring her breast pump into the exam room, and to provide her with an extra room in which to expel milk during her breaks. Currier will be allowed to take the test over two days, instead of the normal one, because she has dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the board has agreed to give her 45 minutes of break time each day. Currier wants an additional hour of break time each day.

But the board argued that it would be unfair to other test takers to allow Currier more time for a condition not recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The national board thinks that breastfeeding is a fine thing to do but it also thinks that having a standardized examination for licensure is also really important," said board spokesperson Ken Cotton.

He said the board periodically reviews its testing policies and will consider increasing break time for all examinees, a solution he said would be more consistent than making an exception for Currier.

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