What if every time American women went into pharmacies to get our prescriptions for birth control pills refilled, pharmacists required us to reveal our marital status, and then further required all married, female patients to bring our husbands into the store to sign a consent form before the prescribed contraceptives would be handed over?
Or how about this: what if a woman went to a plastic surgeon seeking a breast reduction, but the doctor told her that before he could proceed, the woman would need to present a signed, notarized note from her hubby confirming that he was really okay with the big stepdown in his wife’s bra size that would result from the surgery?
These scenarios sound completely farfetched, right? I mean, women would raise hell if doctors or pharmacists tried to force us to disclose marital status and/or require us to get signed consent from our husbands before we could access reproductive health services or other medical care.
But would it surprise you to learn that apparently, many doctors in this country REALLY DO require men who come to them seeking vasectomies to ‘fess up to marital status, and to then get their wives’ written consent before the physician will perform the procedure? In some cases, doctors require a face to face meeting with a man’s wife – in addition to the signed consent from her – before a vasectomy will be performed.
How did I discover this? Well, without getting all up in my husband’s business by offering too many details, suffice it to say that he and I can now credibly report that this inexplicably retro violation of men’s rights to privacy and medical autonomy actually does take place.
After it happened to us this week, I started Googling around to see what the deal was. The nurse who had presented me with the consent form to sign had told me that “it’s the law,” but I knew that couldn’t be right. If anything, the practice is likely against the law.
Oddly, as I surfed around online, I couldn’t really nail down any definitive explanation of how widespread this practice is, or of why doctors are able to get away with something that’s so clearly a violation of male patients’ rights. There is a lot of discussion online around the fact that many doctors all over the country do indeed make this demand of their married, male patients. But most of the online chatter I could find is from men asking the same question I have: what is the basis for this intrusive, possibly illegal practice, given that women are not required to disclose their marital status or get signed permission from their husbands before accessing reproductive health services?
So can anyone tell me what the deal is with this? Do all doctors who perform vasectomies require patients’ wives to give signed consent, or does this practice vary from doctor to doctor? Why would doctors performing surgical sterilization on men be more concerned about getting wives’ consent than doctors who perform tubals and hysterectomies on women are about getting the go-ahead from husbands? Are doctors just less worried that men will complain about sexist discrimination? Also, how is this practice possibly legal? Any of you legal types want to weigh in on that aspect of this?
If your husband has had a vasectomy, did the doctor require you to meet with him and/or give your signed consent before he (or she) would perform the surgery? If so, what did you think of this requirement? What did your husband think?
Let’s talk about this weird, retro anomaly in mens’ medical care in the comments below.
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