National review needed following report on tubal ligations: researchers
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 31, 2017 1:02PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 31, 2017 4:20PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Two researchers who documented unwanted tubal ligations and "inherent racism" experienced by Indigenous women navigating the health-care system in Saskatoon say a national review is needed to determine if other Aboriginal women have experienced similar trauma.
Yvonne Boyer, a lawyer and a Canada Research Chair at Manitoba's Brandon University, and Dr. Judith Bartlett, a physician and researcher, released a report last week outlining how Indigenous women from Saskatoon and surrounding areas were coerced into having their Fallopian tubes clamped or severed after giving birth in a hospital.
The experience of the women in Saskatchewan is likely not limited to the province, Boyer said, adding Indigenous Peoples have experienced racism and discrimination all over the country, including in accessing health services.
"This has just given us an opportunity to use tubal ligation as an example, but I would say it is probably happening in other aspects of health care as well," Boyer said in an interview, noting Indigenous women who shared their stories for the report are also seeking a national review.
A broader review would help determine the extent of discrimination across Canada, Bartlett said. "We know in Saskatoon it has happened at least within the last five years, but also going well back in history in terms of the women that we did interview."
The report says most of the women did not understand tubal ligations were permanent, noting they thought the procedure was a form of birth control that could be reversed.
It adds most women interviewed either do not recall giving consent or signed because they were too tired and overwhelmed to fight any longer.
The report also suggests the tubal ligations were done to help Indigenous women manage burgeoning families.
"The doctors and nurses say, 'It's for your benefit,"' one woman told the investigators. "You have all these children. Enjoy her while you have her."
With one exception, the researchers found all of the women interviewed for the report indicated a clear lack of trust in the health care system -- something that continued long after the procedure.
"Most had not been back to the doctor or had very little health care since they had felt coerced into sterilization," the report said. "They also said they would find it very difficult to go back to a doctor and refuse to go."
The report also documented "inherent racism experienced by Aboriginal people in many health care settings."
"Comments were made that suggested there should be an expansion of the review beyond the boundaries of the SHR (Saskatoon Health Region) to include all hospitals and health-care providers in Saskatchewan and indeed in Canada," the report said.
In response to the report, the Saskatoon Health Region said it deeply regrets what happened and acknowledged it failed to treat the women with the respect, compassion and support they deserve.
It called for the external review after patients came forward to the media to share what they experienced.
"These are the heroes that said 'No, it has to stop, somebody has to listen to me'," Boyer said. "They're the brave ones. They're the ones with the courage that came forward."
The challenge for health authority is to ensure there is an internal culture change to ensure this never happens again, said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, past president of Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada who has been outspoken about discrimination toward Aboriginal patients.
"The reality is ... these forced tubal ligations would have never happened if these individuals had been treated like people instead of caricatures," he said Monday.