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The Hippocratic Oath And Genital Mutilation

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Hands up everyone who knows what the Hippocratic Oath is. My bet is that most of you have at least a vague idea it has something to do with a code of conduct for doctors. That it implies they will put the good of the patient before all other considerations is probably the most widely understood meaning of the oath.

It was written down by Hippocrates, or maybe one of his students, in the 4th century B.C. and, aside from the prayer to Apollo that opens the oath and some modernizations to accommodate our changed world, it’s still a pretty darn good set of guidelines: I won’t give my patients medicines that will harm them; I won’t do any procedure that I’m not capable of; and I will never do harm to anyone. These are all things we’d like to think our own doctor would adhere to.

Of course, you have to wonder these days the way some doctors run their practices if they’ve ever heard of that Oath or any one of the modern variations that they now have doctors recite — especially the part about medicines that will cause people harm. How many class action lawsuits are going on right now because of prescription drugs that caused severe complications for patients?

Sure, some of them are the fault of the pharmaceutical companies and the regulating agencies rushing some wonder drug onto the market without giving it proper testing. But there are also the instances, far more common than you’d think, of doctors not bothering to check a patient’s medical history to find out if they have high blood pressure and if the medication they’ve just prescribed isn’t supposed to be taken under those circumstances.

Then there are the doctors who look at their patients in terms of how much money they’re worth and how much work they involve. The ideal patient for this type of doctor is the one who won’t take up much of their time, but needs to see them on a regular basis so billable hours can be increased.

There have been cases reported in Canada where doctors are refusing to take on clients who are elderly or who will require extensive amounts of treatment, while not allowing the doctor to charge extra billable hours — so much for treating anyone in need.

But at least that’s only a case of neglect and not a case of subjecting a patient to unnecessary and harmful treatments like those that have been discovered in countries that still practice ritual female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has released a report that reveals more and more doctors in developing countries are participating in these procedures.

While calling for the procedure to be stamped out as soon as possible, the W.H.O. reserved some of their harshest language for trained medical people participating in what they refer to as the torture of innocent victims. While conceding it may be helping to cut down on the risk of AIDS by the fact that clean instruments are being used, they liken it to using a clean knife to kill someone.

Three million girls under the age of ten are subjected to this procedure every year, which involves the cutting away of parts of the clitoris in an attempt to dampen their sexual appetites and increase their value as a wife. Lest we be in any rush to point the finger at any particular faith, it seems to be done equally amongst Muslims and Christians — yet another way in which the two faiths seem to agree on the place of women in society.

So what’s the big deal about doctors taking part, you may be asking? If it’s going to happen, shouldn’t it at least be done safely? Putting aside the simple morality of condoning torture by being present, the long-term health issues of the procedure should be enough to prevent any doctor from participating in the operation.

Depending on the severity of the mutilation, the risk of hemorrhaging during childbirth increases by 70% and the neo-natal death rate by as much as 55% compared to women who have not been tortured. In countries where the infant mortality rate is already high, you would think doctors and other health care professionals would be mindful of such results, wouldn’t you?

If a doctor were making the spurious claim of participating because he has the patient’s best interest at heart, then I would ask him wouldn’t the patient’s best interest be for the procedure not to take place at all? Wouldn’t you, as a respected medical professional, better serve your patient by explaining to those who want the procedure performed (most likely the father of the child) that they are actually decreasing the woman’s chances of coming to term safely?

People who would have this procedure done to their daughters, with the purpose of making them more attractive as wives, might think twice about it if they knew their daughters might not be able to fulfill their sacred duty of dropping babies that live after having their genitalia mutilated. When dealing with stock, you always want to make sure it breeds effectively; otherwise, it might affect the sale price, or dowry as the case maybe.

Any doctor having anything else to do with these procedures, aside from fighting against them as barbaric and claiming to be doing it for the good of the patient is, in my mind, akin to somebody saying they assisted at a death camp because they wanted to make sure the Jews got the fairest treatment possible. There is no excuse that can validate the action.

I’ve not always agreed with W.H.O. and their classifications of disease and ideas on treatment. But on this issue, they are right on the money. The practice of genital mutilation has no place in our world and any doctor who takes part in that disgustingness deserves nothing but our condemnation.

By lending the authority of their profession to the practice, they are giving an air of legitimacy to a barbarism that should have been outlawed years ago. This will only be stopped by isolating and ostracizing this behaviour. Seeking to make it more palatable only encourages its continuance.

Any doctor who willingly participates in one of these procedures needs to re-read his Hippocrates, at least the bit about not doing harm.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Josh

    “So what’s the big deal about doctors taking part, you may be asking? If it’s going to happen, shouldn’t it at least be done safely?”

    Kind of off topic, but this sounds a lot like the abortion debate.

  • http://StopInfantCircumcision.org/crick-wald.htm Van Lewis

    “Wouldn’t you, as a respected medical professional, better serve your patient by explaining to those that want the procedure performed (most likely the father of the child) that they are actually decreasing the woman’s chances of coming to term safely?”

    Wrong about the father. Most likely the MOTHER of the child (but often the father as well), as with fathers (and mothers) of boys in the USA. The sexually mutilated parent typically wants their same-sexed children to be sexually mutilated as well, to “look like” mom or dad.

    Genital mutilation of children by adults is a sex crime. What sex the child happens to be is 100% irrelevant. Many more boys are harmed and killed by genital mutilation than girls because so many more boys are mutilated. This doesn’t make MGM worse than FGM. Human Genital Mutilation is the real problem.

    Van Lewis, Administrator
    Ashley Montagu Resolution to End the Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide:
    A Petition to the World Court, the Hague
    http://MontaguNoCircPetition.org

    … circumcision, an archaic ritual mutilation that has no justification
    whatever and no place in a civilized society.
    Ashley Montagu, Ph.D., (1905-1999), Anthropologist, “Humanist of the Year”, 1995.
    Concluding his 1991 essay, “Mutilated Humanity”

    I’m against it.
    George Wald, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate, Physiology or Medicine (1967)
    In his 1975 essay, “Circumcision”.

    … you may add my name to those opposed to the genital mutilations of
    children worldwide and supportive of the Montagu Resolution.
    Francis Crick, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate, Physiology or Medicine (1962)
    Letter to James Prescott, April 1995.

    You may add my name to those in support of the Montagu Resolution expressing
    opposition to the genital mutilation of children.
    Jonas Salk, M.D., Creator of the Salk polio vaccine
    Letter to James Prescott, April 1995.

    … I have endorsed the Montagu Petition.
    Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976)
    Web Endorsement of the Montagu Resolution, October 2005.

    The greatest crime against humanity is the torture and mutilation of
    children. Child abuse and neglect, particularly in its extreme forms,
    represents a form of torture and mutilation. Not commonly recognized as
    child abuse and neglect and a form of torture and mutilation is the ritual
    mutilation of genitals of children (male and female). One reason for the
    non-recognition of these crimes of genital mutilation and torture is their
    common occurrence and their support by religious and social traditions of
    various kinds. Another reason is the denial and/or indifference to the pain
    that is being inflicted upon these children.
    James Prescott, Ph.D., Neuropsychologist, Cross-Cultural Psychologist,
    Author of the Montagu Resolution
    Institute of Humanistic Science

    Just because people don’t want to hear the message the first time
    doesn’t mean they’re not going to get it eventually.
    Marilyn Milos, R.N., Founder, National Organization of
    Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NoCirc)

    The obscure we see eventually,
    the completely apparent takes longer.
    Edward R. Murrow

  • http://blogs.epicindia.com/leapinthedark Richard Marcus

    As a circumsisced male, I fear I must disagree with the definition the above commentaters are disseminating in regards to maintaining there is no difference between removing the male foreskin and cutting away the female clitoris.

    Removing my foreskin has not increased my chances of dying while giving birth or caused me any lasting trauma. The foreskin is an extraneous piece of flesh much like the appedix which serves no useful purpose. On the other hand a woman’s clitoris is vital to her enjoying the sexual act.

    The only purpose served by female mutilation is to deprive the woman of pleasure and make her more submissive. No woman would willing subject her daughter to such a procedure, and I and only say that it would be men who would demand that type of servitude from a woman.

    To liken male circumcision with the barbarism that is practiced on women in these countries only trivialises the situation they are in.

    You can be against male circucision all you want, but never equate it to the torture that a young girl must undergo for the purpose of making her a more docile bride.

    Richard

  • http://nodhimmitude.blogspot.com/ dag walker

    I cover this issue as often as possible, and if you are a competent essayist who wishes to spread your copy, please leave a comment at my blog. I’ll post anything, pro or con, that resembles a coherent piece of argument.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joan Hunt

    Part of the problem, Richard, is that many times, this procedure is not performed by a doctor. However, the argument made is such that at least when a doctor DOES perform the procedure, the chances of a child dying from the procedure are reduced. Not that it makes a bit of sense from our point of view, but that’s the logic behind their thinking.

    I won’t even go into all the other complications a young woman faces with many of these cultural mutilations, but suffice it to say, they are indeed many and those who live through them know this only as the way things are done where they live.