Instilling fear makes good business sense: unwarranted hysterectomies in Karnataka

Teena Xavier, Akhila Vasan, Vijayakumar S

Abstract

This paper uses data from two fact-finding exercises in two districts of Karnataka to trace how government and private doctors alike pushed women to undergo hysterectomies. The doctors provided grossly unscientific information to poor Dalit women to instil a fear of “cancer” in their minds to wilfully mislead them to undergo hysterectomies, following which many suffered complications and died. The paper examines a review, made by two separate panels of experts, of women’s medical records from private hospitals to illustrate that a large proportion of the hysterectomies performed were medically unwarranted; that private doctors were using highly suspect diagnostic criteria, based on a single ultrasound scan, to perform the hysterectomies and had not sent even a single sample for histopathology; and that the medical records were incomplete, erroneous and, in several instances, manipulated. The paper describes how a combination of patriarchal bias, professional unscrupulousness and pro-private healthcare policies posed a serious threat to the survival and well-being of women in Karnataka.

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