Unwarranted surgeries

The large number of hysterectomies being conducted on women in Karnataka, even in situations where they are not needed, has laid bare yet again the lack of ethics among medical professionals. Hysterectomy is not a simple surgery. It is a major surgical procedure that involves considerable risk to the life and well-being of the patient. It could lead to an array of medical, psychological and psychosexual complications for the patient. It is a surgery that should be conducted as a last resort, only if the patient absolutely needs it. However, doctors are convincing young women to undergo hysterectomies even when they are medically unwarranted. A study done in 2014-2015 in Karnataka found that of the 70 women who had undergone hysterectomy, in 40 cases the surgery was not required. Profits are driving medical professionals to force women to have their uterus removed. Women with problems such as white discharge, irregular menstrual cycles and random abdominal pain are being terrorised by doctors into thinking they are dying or prone to cancer and that a hysterectomy is the only way out. Most victims of needless hysterectomies in Karnataka are uneducated rural women from poor and socially marginalised backgrounds. They run up huge debts to pay for the surgery. The manner in which their ignorance and fears are being exploited by greedy doctors is unconscionable.

The problem is widespread. Residents of Vadarahatti village claim that around 200 women in their hamlet have had their uterus removed. According to local ASHA workers, of the 400 women in the 19 to 49 years age group in this village, 40 have undergone a hysterectomy and only two of them were found to need this surgery. This is alarming. In addition to putting the lives of women at risk, doctors are violating the reproductive rights of young women.

The Karnataka government remains unmoved by the plight of thousands of women in the state. Statistics show that most of the unwarranted hysterectomies are conducted by private practitioners. But the government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the problem. The absence of government healthcare facilities leaves poor people at the mercy of private practitioners, which the latter exploit to the hilt. Guidelines are not being implemented seriously and even in situations where probes into medical malpractices have provided evidence, the government and the Karnataka Medical Council have failed to act. Tough laws and stern punishment are required. Merely suspending the licence of erring doctors isn’t enough as they return to ply their trade elsewhere. They deserve prison terms. Action against hospitals and clinics that do not maintain medical records is essential. The nexus between doctors, government officials and police must be broken.

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