Oct. 13, 2015 – A USC professor recently explained to a University of Houston Law Center audience her efforts to shed light on the clash among laws, biomedical ethics, and cultural mores that is preventing some women from undergoing reconstructive genital surgery.
Professor Alison Dundes Renteln said the admittedly little known issue is whether some governments and medical associations in Europe and North America have the right to deny women access to hymenoplasty, or “reconstructive,” surgery based on the belief that the women are not making self-directed decisions.
“Women, often from Muslim societies are concerned that they will be subject to honor related violence. Those in Europe, the United States, or Canada can go to a doctor and ask for reconstructive surgery so it won’t be discovered that they have been sexually active prior to their wedding night,” said Renteln, professor of Political Science, Anthropology, Law, and Public Policy at the University of Southern California,
Though in a perfect world, she said, social pressure would not compel women to seek the procedure, Renteln’s essay, “Culture and Cutting: Does Hymenoplasty Violate Human Rights?” supports the idea that adult women should be able to choose reconstructive surgery for themselves based on their cultural views of the sacredness of virginity. However, there are laws in some areas that prevent doctors from performing the surgery.
“I want to focus on whether it is appropriate in terms of biomedical ethics and existing legal principles for medical professionals to refuse to perform this surgery,” said Renteln, “and these policies are advising doctors to not preform hymenoplasty on consenting adult women.”
Renteln is challenging lawyers to help in her crusade of helping women protect themselves. “Medical professionals are driving this issue, and I need help changing how these situations are understood,” said Renteln.
Renteln spoke as part of the University of Houston Law Center Health, Law & Policy Institute’s 2015-2016 speaker series.