Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doctors Raping Patients

At ThePolitic, I have a brief comment on the story about non-consensual pelvic exams done on patients who are unconscious.  It is my contention that this is rape.  You don't get to stick things into a woman's vagina without her consent.  When you do, it's rape.  If I were to do "pelvic exams" on women who had passed out in bars, I'd (rightly) be called a rapist.  The same holds true for doctors in operating rooms.

Putting that aside, it's obvious that there are people in the medical profession who see nothing wrong with this form of rape.  As I note at ThePolitic, there's a lot to unpack here.  The mentality that justifies such egregious abuses of personal autonomy is somewhat disturbing.

The main justification for this practice seems to be that without this abuse there would be no women willing to submit to unnecessary pelvic exams - a useful teaching tool.  The data proves this wrong.  Further, there is always the option of paying women.  Nonetheless, even if we take this incorrect assertion as fact, it does absolutely nothing to justify the abuser's actions.

To assume that it does, we must assume that any one person - or any one group of people - is worth less than the collective.  To decide that the individual's wishes do not matter, in the context of the greater good, is to decide that each one of us is here as a resource for the group.  Our liberty and our autonomy matter not.  To approve the use and abuse of unconscious women is to degrade them, and to degrade the rest of us.  This is illiberal.  This strikes against everything that Western democracy is supposed to stand for (and be built upon).  This not only dehumanizes individual humans, it dehumanizes humanity.  The inherent dignity that liberty presupposes is considered non-existent when the personal wishes of an individual are deemed irrelevant in pursuit of the amelioration of the masses.

It's often joked that doctors have God complexes.  More than any other profession (well, maybe politicians), popular culture assigns self-reverence to doctors.  The actions described in the article would not, by definition, constitute playing God (God' not a criminal), however, by deciding that they, and they alone, will be the arbiters of what is moral, what is acceptable, what is legal and what value to place on human life, these doctors are not far off.  There's a certain level of narcissism required to assume that you should decide what goes in someone else's vagina.

Despite this abhorrent behaviour, I'm not willing to assume that all doctors are sociopaths (I would assume that the rate of sociopathy is no different than any other profession).  It seems to me that we are likely witnessing an instantiation of the Milgram Experiment.  Med students, naturally obedient and subservient to the doctors from whom they're learning, will be disinclined to refuse to abuse women when so directed by a superior.  I imagine this mentality is not the sole domain of med students, either.  From my experience (personally, and from what I've witnessed of friends and loved ones), patients are likely to defer to experts.  When a doctor tells us something needs to be done, we forgo the need to think critically.  Well, if a doctor said it, then it must be true.  Patients too often take insufficient command of their own treatment, acquiescing to whatever the man in the white coat suggests.

(This is not meant to be a polemic against doctors in general; just against those who would sexually abuse women.)

Since this mentality seems to be natural among humans, it is, perhaps, unfair to single out med students.  It is much fairer to pin the bulk of the blame on the doctors who ordered the abuse.  They were the ones most in control of the situation.  They are the ones who, ultimately, are responsible for the well being of their patients.  Though, I have to wonder, how long has this been going on?  Were the doctors who are ordering the exams expected to perform these same exams when they were med students?  If the med students who perpetrated these crimes in the past are now in a position to put a stop to them but don't (or worse, actively perpetuate this wretched practice), I have no sympathy for them.  Even if we could consider them victims when they were med students (big stretch), we do not absolve abusers because they were once abused.

Further, it is not the practice in North America to forgive someone of their crimes, even if we have a Milgram situation.  Just as the abusers in the strip search prank call spree are rightfully considered guilty (though with mitigating circumstances), so must the med students be considered guilty.  It has been a long time since Western democracy has accepted, 'I was just following orders,' as a basis for exoneration.

In the end, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of their "good" intentions, regardless of their willful ignorance, these doctors and med students committed rape.  They shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, but (I'm cynical enough to assume) they will.  Our only real hope is that enough people will realize the abhorrent nature of this practice and put a stop to it.  Until then, we have no way of knowing how many more women will be abused.

Hell, we have no way of knowing how many have already been abused.  Many women will go without justice, because they have no idea that they were raped.

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