Zaid: Health Ministry wrong to follow fetish of ‘holy men’

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PETALING JAYA: The fetishes of “holy men” in government should not be allowed to rule policy in government departments, says Zaid Ibrahim.

The former law minister said this in reference to a possible move by the Health Ministry that only women gynaecologists attend to women in the process of childbirth.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahya had apparently announced that the Govern­ment intends to make it mandatory that only women doctors should deliver babies in public hospitals, something the deputy minister has since denied saying he was misquoted.

“Making something mandatory should be limited to extreme situations, such as wearing seat belts in cars to reduce the risk of death and injury. There are coherent and good reasons for wearing seat belts but we have not been given any such reason why only women obstetricians should be allowed to deliver babies.

“Giving birth is a complicated process and can be dangerous, so it is important that the patient is comfortable with the person attending to her needs. If a prospective mother has confidence in a particular gynaecologist who is a man, she should not be denied her choice,” Zaid said, in his column in The Star today.

Zaid added however, that women who preferred women gynaecologists should be accommodated too.

“Such options are already there, so why is it necessary to make it mandatory for all women?” he asked, further questioning if such policies are due to “holy men in government departments, who have nothing to do with medicine”, making such decrees.

“Have they decreed that no male doctors should be involved because a woman must not expose her aurat during childbirth?

“I trust that the minister will not let the private fetishes of self-appointed guardians of morality dictate what kind of medical care is ‘appropriate’ for the public,” Zaid said.

He also questioned the fate of male doctors currently studying to be gynaecologists and obstetricians and hoping to serve in the government medical service, should these self appointed guardians have their way.

“Let’s say that we’ve implemented the policy: some male medical graduates who were initially interested in obstetrics and gynaecology will now opt for other specialisations because they will have no opportunity to work in public hospitals.

“Let’s say they now specialise in surgery – but who can guarantee that some future government policy won’t bar them from operating on women for the same reason that they will catch sight of a woman’s private parts?”

The issue of gender segregation in all fields of medicine because “the aurat might be exposed” may then become a reality he said, and all “because some holy men think it’s a good idea?”

Zaid called for the Government to explain its policy fully so that women can provide their input.

“Surely since women are the ones who have to endure childbirth and face all the complications that go with it, their opinion of this policy is absolutely crucial – and, after all, public consultation is the first step towards formulating good policy.”

A statement from Hilmi later clarified the “only women gynaecologists attending to childbirth” statement, saying that mothers-to-be could choose their preferred female specialists to attend to them once the country had achieved an adequate number of such female  specialists.

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