Doctor brings compassion to medical practice

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Reclaiming My Birth Rights by Adrienne Carmack MD

This is a book that is part autobiography and part thought provoking tour through medicine as it is practiced in America today. Doctor Carmack looks at pregnancy, childbirth, circumcision, unnecessary genital surgery and the early years of parenting with a knowledge of medicine and a compassionate, open mind. I would recommend this book to anyone considering having children. After three different birth experiences Doctor Carmack has a lot of valuable experience to pass on to prospective parents.

That medicine is a practice with it’s own culture should come as no surprise. What is surprising is Carmack’s exposition of the extent to which that medical culture as opposed to medical science influences the practice of medicine. Drug companies and the influence they exert on medicine are insightfully analysed and criticised. The overuse of antibiotics and the misuse of vaccinations is clearly explained. The companies that market baby formula obviously don’t market breast feeding but the importance of breast feeding and co-sleeping with your children is quite rightly stressed, by Carmack, as being both natural and safe.

The encouraging aspect of this book is that there are people questioning cultural norms such as our over reliance on the medical profession, when a visit to an osteopath, physiotherapist or other alternative practitioner may be all that is necessary. The core of this book is how to achieve the balance between living and growing in society rather than just existing in society and letting life take it’s toll on our health. Carmack views health as not just the absence of illness but the total wellbeing that is achievable with a balanced life.

My own journey towards a balanced life has been very different to the author’s but it is progressing. As a person who has made the change from victim of male genital cutting to activist opposing non-therapeutic genital surgery I applaud Doctor Carmack’s realisation that non-therapeutic genital surgery on males and intersex children is inherently harmful and her robust rejection of the practice is most welcome.

One law for all.

The disadvantage of targeting specific offences with specific legislation such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 is that the targeting appears to select particular groups for punitive action. This has resulted in no prosecutions under the Act in the 10 years of the Act’s existence.

The cultures that traditionally practice female genital mutilation (FGM) usually cut males as well and so they perceive the legislation as being discriminatory towards their specific practice and discriminatory towards their culture. It is not surprising that prosecutors have been reluctant to proceed when they realise that the prosecutor’s action will be seen as discriminatory by the culture concerned.

A law that has a useful application in a great variety of situations is a law that can be generally seen to be fair and just.  A law that is wide reaching in it’s scope maintains the impartiality of the judicial process rather than being seen as aimed at a specific community or culture. FGM is without doubt an assault so the French, sensibly, use their Code Civil an equivalent of the English Offences Against The Person Act to bring perpetrators of FGM to trial without any implication of discrimination.

DSC_0931-crop312wLooking at the U.K’s Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 reveals an offence the definition of which is quite specifically and deliberately drafted as an anatomical list designed to apply only to females, labia minora, labia majora and clitoris (no mention is made of the clitoral prepuce); it is an offence to excise or cut any of the parts mentioned. This definition prevents the possible inclusion of male or intersex anatomy in the definition.

The definition of who is and who is not female is not certain and as recent change to the law in Germany has made clear gender is a choice that can be left for the individual concerned to make when they are competent to decide for themselves. Approximately two in a hundred children are born with some form of ambiguity regarding their gender. An ethical line in the sand could and should be drawn by sticking to fundamental medical ethics; unnecessary procedures without informed consent can and should wait until proper consent can be obtained.

The argument will of course be made that FGM is especially nasty, has outcomes and consequences unique to females. This is not the only situation in which that argument could be made but is dismissed by society. Take the law on rape as an example. The outcomes and consequences of rape can be very different for men and women; women can become pregnant, yet there is no perceived need for a different law for males and females because it is recognised that the crime is the lack of consent not the sex act itself or it’s consequences.

So it should be with genital cutting; children born with atypical genitals, women wishing for “designer vaginas” and those men who want to sacrifice part of their penis should be free to consent to such procedures when they are competent to do so. Children who cannot give informed consent should all be protected equally, irrespective of gender.

No prosecutions

No one has ever been prosecuted under the FGM legislation.
Almost all cultures that practice the genital cutting of children cut both sexes. Female circumcision will continue as long as society tolerates male circumcision.

Female circumcision and male circumcision are always compared selectively. The very worst form of female circumcision is selected and contrasted with “normal” male circumcision. Females are protected by law from even a ritual pinprick that removes no tissue and quite right too. Men Do Complain believes it is right to protect females and all children from any unnecessary interference. Sadly the argument that all children should be treated equally works both ways, those in favour of cutting females say, with some justification, that if you tolerate the cutting of  boys then you should tolerate the cutting of girls.

There are of course differences between male and female circumcision, although the tissues most commonly excised are similar in structure and function. The fixation on the differences between male and female circumcision loses sight of the greatest similarity, which is that all non-therapeutic genital cutting is an assault if there is no valid consent to the procedure. No one would argue that a black eye and a cut lip are the same; yet all would agree that if an adult hit a child in the face and left an injury then it was the blow that defined the offence not the nature of the resulting injury.

In an age where children’s rights are increasingly recognised, equal opportunities promoted, and human rights incorporated into our legislation it is difficult to see the non-therapeutic cutting of children’s genitals as anything other than a crime. All children should be protected from the inappropriate activities of adults.

 

MDC supporters took the message that no children should be discriminated against to the Department of Health. Whitehall was also the venue for another demonstration which provided a stream of people on a very cold afternoon. Ninety seven leaflets were handed out and some new friends were found among the passers by.  The young man in the picture below certainly noticed our presence and asked if he could be photographed with Richard in the bloody overalls. The general public seems to get our message it is the politicians and institutions that are so very resistant to a change that is long overdue.