by Nora W. Coffey
- USA -
What do you call it when someone deceptively lures another into danger?
And if the deception involves telling a woman she’ll be “better than ever” to lure her into being drugged and strapped down before cutting out her sex organs, what would you call that?
Maybe female genital mutilation comes to mind, but the impact of the sanctioned violence against women I’m talking about is much more pervasive and far-reaching. And this crime is not only not criminal, some of the largest, most revered medical associations in the country support it, train others to do it, and their members profit from it. The crime I refer to is hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) performed without providing the information required for informed consent.
Hysterectomy and other gynecological procedures are highly profitable, and where there is unregulated profiteering, there will be those who seek to exploit the system. Many doctors, like Manhattan gynecologist Ben Thamrong, have been convicted of Medicaid fraud, and some hospitals have been leveled fines for defrauding taxpayers. The Hospital Corporation of America, the healthcare corporation largely owned by the family of former Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, was leveled the largest penalty ever, secured by federal prosecutors in a healthcare fraud case.
But while doctors go to prison for committing Medicaid fraud, fraud intended to deceive women into hysterectomies is condoned, rewarded, and protected from penalty. Medical malpractice cases brought by women for lack of informed consent are rarely successful, and politicians seek to cap damages, as Frist did throughout his political career.
How is it that we’ve allowed doctors and hospitals to rise above the law? If a doctor cuts out a woman’s sex organs, there’s little chance he’ll ever stand before a judge. If he does, he’s usually acquitted. What is criminal on the street—taking a knife to a woman after drugging her and tying her down—is legal in America’s operating rooms, even if the surgery is performed on a woman who has little or no knowledge of the lifelong consequences of the surgery.
But it’s more complicated than that. Female gynecologists are just as likely to perform hysterectomies as their male counterparts. And if a man were asked to sign a consent form for the removal of his sex organs for a benign condition, he’d storm out of the doctor’s office.
The difference is that the functions of the male organs are apparent to the naked eye, while the functions of the female organs are not. The relationship between the testicles and penis and overall wellbeing in men is generally understood, while scores of medical websites and “patient education” materials claim that women are superhuman beings whose lives are somehow improved by the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries.
Hysterectomy is often recommended for natural anatomic variations such as fibroids, endometriosis, uterine prolapse, heavy or irregular vaginal bleeding, and pelvic pain. It is portrayed as a cure-all treatment, when in reality only about 2% are lifesaving. For the 2% of women who develop cancer of the uterus, cervix, or ovaries, if it has spread into the pelvis, removing the organs may not save the woman's life.
Unless it’s a life-or-death situation, which is extremely rare (the incidence of cancer in the female and male organs, for example, is nearly identical), women who are informed about female anatomy and the functions of the female organs rarely consent to hysterectomy and castration. In other words, gynecologists use fraud to induce women into signing hysterectomy consent forms.
“Fraud in the inducement” is a term used to describe a situation where the first party seeks to benefit by tricking or deceiving a second party into being led into harm’s way. In the example above, the second party signs a consent form to be drugged, strapped to a table, and then hysterectomized, because of erroneous information supplied by the inducer.
Fraud in the inducement requires proof that 1) a false statement of material fact was made, 2) the doctor/hospital knew or should have known the material fact was false, 3) the false statement induced the woman to sign the consent form, and 4) the hysterectomy caused injury to the woman who relied on the misrepresentation as fact. In the courts, cases against doctors usually come down to he-said versus she-said. But lawsuits—even class-action lawsuits—against doctors or medical institutions that publish misinformation in the form of “patient education” may meet the requirements for fraud in the inducement.
False statements of material fact on medical websites are more the standard than the exception. Doctor, government health agency, and hospital websites do not provide the information required for informed consent, and the information they do provide is often erroneous. Most are authored by gynecologists who should know that the information they publish runs contrary to anatomical fact. Women are encouraged to use this misleading information to make a decision about hysterectomy, the aftermath of which causes injury to more than 621,000 women in the U.S. annually.
Around the world each year, millions of women are told their lives will be improved by being admitted into hospitals, which report almost two million cases of potentially fatal infections like staph and MRSA each year. After being bombarded by erroneous information prior to being admitted, women are often not given the consent form until after their eyeglasses have been removed and they have been sedated. No one bothers to mention that three women die on operating tables every day in the U.S. during hysterectomy, or that about 98% are performed without the information that is requisite for informed consent.
Having been led to believe their powerful sex organs were ticking time bombs in order to convince them they needed hysterectomies, women go from doctor to doctor after the surgery, searching for some way to help cope with the aftermath.
With another hysterectomy performed every minute of every day in the U.S. on a woman who has not been given the information required for informed consent, there are many co-conspirators in the hysterectomy racket. Every medical professional who actively participates in or witnesses the diagnosis, education, and consent process for hysterectomies performed without informed consent is no less guilty of fraud and violence against women than the surgeon holding the scalpel, laser, or robotic surgery joystick.
Rape and domestic abuse have exacted such a toll on our society the need for legislation resulted in Joe Biden’s Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA is perhaps the most meaningful legislation protecting women’s rights passed in the last 30 years, and medical fraud should be included in it. Each year in this country there are almost five times more women whose sex organs are cut out of their bodies because of fraud than those who report being raped.
It was only a short time ago that women won the right to vote, to own property, and were provided with legal protection from rape by their husbands. Each right was hard-fought. Full knowledge about the adverse effects of hysterectomy and castration prior to being told to sign a consent form is another right we’ll have to fight hard to win.
The don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture of medicine must be stopped. Only when violence against women is seen to include medical abuse, will hysterectomy without informed consent finally be recognized for what it is—fraud to induce sanctioned violence against women.
About the Author
Nora W. Coffey is the author of THE H WORD and is the president of the Hysterectomy Educational Resources and Services (HERS) Foundation. She has been a guest lecturer at medical schools, nursing schools, and conferences, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows including 20/20, Oprah Winfrey, National Public Radio's Fresh Air, and The Today Show.
Nora founded HERS in 1982 to meet the need for complete, accurate information about the alternatives to and adverse effects of hysterectomy and the multiplicity of physical, social, economic, and political issues surrounding the surgery. HERS is the only organization solely dedicated to the issue of hysterectomy and has counseled over 850,000 women. Ninety-eight percent of the women HERS has referred to board certified gynecologists after being told they needed hysterectomies discovered that, in fact, they did not need them.