Following sensational whistleblower reports on 14 September of unconsented hysterectomies being performed on women in immigration detention in the US, the Mexican government has continued posting weekly updates of its investigation into the case. Its most recent report, published on Saturday, confirms two grave breaches of medical ethics.
One of the two victims, who understood she was being treated for a hernia, was subjected to a gynecological surgery (not a hysterectomy), without her consent. She reported receiving no explanation in Spanish of her diagnosis or the procedure that was going to be performed.
A second woman, who has since been deported to Mexico, was also subjected to a gynecological surgery without her full consent. Her account matches the case of “Yuridia” (a pseudonym), who told the New York Times she sought medical attention for rib pains she experienced following a fight with her ex-partner, which occurred immediately before she was arrested by US immigration police.
During her examination the woman was subject to an unrequested gynecological exam, after which she was told she had cysts that needed to be surgically removed. Her medical record includes patient reports of heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain which she said she never experienced.
The Mexican government investigation corroborates existing reports. A woman of Cameroonian nationality, who had lived in the US since the age of two, had a fallopian tube removed after complaining of abnormalities with her period. Similarly, a Jamaican woman had ovarian cysts removed after suffering menstrual cramps, saying she was pressured into consenting.
All cases relate to gynaecologist Mahendra Amin, who has since been criticised by independent medical reviewers for aggressively advising surgery. Medical specialists working with US immigration detention authorities are paid a fee per procedure.
Did Women Suffer Forced Hysterectomies in Immigration Detention?
Widespread reports in the media of forced “hysterectomies” have somewhat obscured this dramatic story, given that it seems most cases relate to ovarian cysts being removed as a putative treatment for menstrual pain, with symptoms reportedly exaggerated in order to justify the procedure, and with a sizeable payment for Dr Amin in each case. This misreporting has allowed immigration authorities to issue strenuous denials of conducting “hysterectomies.”
But the deeper issue is the poor treatment of patients with low social status in a racist and classist society. For instance, poor African-Americans are more likely to receive risky and potentially unnecessary surgery than white Americans or well-off African-Americans. So while immigration detention is the extreme end of this scale, these detainees’ suffering is part of a broader problem, not a complete anomaly.