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Astoria doc discriminated against patient, suit says

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Chaudhry Yousaf moved his family to the United States from Pakistan in 1985 because he wanted his mentally retarded son to live the kind of life that would have been impossible in their home country.

Seventeen years later his decision has paid off. His son Murtaza, now 21, has learned to speak, to eat at a restaurant and to ride the bus by himself to school, where he continues to accumulate new skills that seemed unattainable when he sat idly at home in Pakistan.

Despite his accomplishments, however, one thing Murtaza apparently could not secure was a few minutes with a doctor in Astoria. Now Chaudhry Yousaf is suing him for discrimination.

The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest filed a lawsuit last week in the Eastern District of New York alleging that Dr. Natwarlal Chowlera discriminated against Murtaza Yousaf by failing to honor an appointment his father had made by phone once they appeared in his Astoria office.

"We wanted to raise consciousness about this issue and inform the public that this is just one clear aspect of how immigrants from another part of the world get discriminated against," said Rose Cuison-Villazor, a staff attorney at New York Lawyers. "Justice is our ultimate goal."

Chaudhry Yousaf, an East Elmhurst resident, made an appointment for his son to see Chowlera at 4 p.m. on March 8, 2002 because he was the only doctor available who accepted Medicaid. Yousaf was no longer eligible to see his pediatrician and did not yet have a new doctor, but he came down with a severe cough and needed an immediate appointment.

When they arrived at the doctor's office and Chaudhry Yousaf presented his son's Medicaid card, however, the receptionist told her he had to show his own passport before Chowlera would see his son, according to the suit. Yousaf said he demanded to speak to the doctor.

"He said, 'Go to the hospital, I can't see you, I can't attend you,'" Yousaf said of his conversation with the doctor. "I said, 'Doctor, why can't you see me?' My son was sick, he needed immediate attention. He's not telling me the reason, he's just making a gesture with his hand as he's trying to throw me out of the office."

Chowlera's attorney did not return a phone call requesting comment on the lawsuit.

Yousaf said he then brought his son to a pediatrician who diagnosed acute bronchitis and prescribed medication, charging $60 for the visit.

Yousaf said he has no idea why the doctor refused to treat his son, whom he had never met before the day of his appointment. He speculated that it could be an example of the prejudice that has emerged since Sept. 11, or an extension of the perennial antagonism between Pakistan and India as the doctor has an Indian last name.

"Why say no to a person who needs medical attention? That means every doctor should say no to these Muslim people or Pakistani people," Yousaf said. "Pakistani people were not involved with this Sept. 11 incident."

Cuison-Villazor said requiring a passport for medical treatment is a clear sign of discrimination based on national origin, while refusing care to a disabled person is grounds for suing on the basis of disability discrimination.

"It's up to the other side now to come up with a non-discriminatory reason for denying services to Murtaza," Cuison-Villazor said.

The lawsuit seeks a total of $250,000 in damages.

Chaudhry Yousaf said he filed the suit because he wanted to prevent others from facing the discrimination he and his son endured.

"The way he insulted me, I don't want anybody else to go into the office with a person who suffers from developmental disabilities and get this kind of treatment," Yousaf said. "I don't think my son deserves this kind of treatment from a doctor. If this could have been happening to me it could be happening to some other people. This is not right."

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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