Sunday, 31 August 2008

Lest we forget

It's hard to believe that it's been twenty years since the Cartwright Report was released. But I think it is even harder to believe that for almost 20 years a Doctor was able to conduct an experiment which denied life-saving treatment for cervical cancer to the women who entrusted him with their lives. New Zealand being the place it is, 'Ruth,' whose story lead to the Cartwright inquiry was the Deputy Principal at my High School.

I think we sometimes forget how profound this event was in New Zealand medicine. Fortunately the Herald featured has an interesting overview of the changes on Saturday so I will leave you with an anecdote of my own. When I was at university I did an assignment on this shameful chapter of New Zealand history. The Canadian lecturer who marked the paper pulled me aside one day saying she had never understood why the University of Auckland's requirements for gaining Human Subject Ethics approval for research were so stringent until she read the essay. Perhaps some would say all this paperwork was 'PC gone mad!!!' if they didn't know the history behind it.


Julie said...

I'm glad you posted about this e-e. A woman of my acquaintance who worked as a nurse at National Women's back in the days before the Cartwright Report told me how they used to routinely do episiotomies (sp?) on women, whether necessary or not, so that the doctors (mostly men) could get sufficient practice in how to do them. It seems so alien now, to think that it used to be ok for women's wishes (and their needs) to be put to one side like that. "Ruth", Coney, Bunkle, and all the other women (and no doubt men) involved in the exposure of that unfortunate experiment have left a legacy for us all.

Anonymous said...

And the students practising fitting IUDs on women undergoing gyne surgery (without permission) "Doesn't matter if you rupture the uterus, she's having a hysterectomy anyway..."

It is stuff like this that happened (and is still happening) worldwide that made and makes many women reject medicalisation of their "leaky bodies" under the paternalism of 'the system'.

Medical procedures all have their place (eg episiotomies as Julie mentions) but wanton use of women's bodies in the way of Green and Co also the implication that somehow women need medical/male interventions to "fix" them angers me so much.

Medicine has so much to give, but in my view we need to continue to bring feminism principles to bear in its application. NEVER forget what happened at National womens. Thanks for this post