Claims that some women who are being held in detention have undergone reproductive surgical procedures without their prior knowledge or consent have been levied against the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.
Allegations of insufficient medical care exacerbated by COVID-19, coupled with echoes of possible medical experimentation raised in a whistleblower complaint, must be thoroughly investigated to assure against a repeat of the historic contraceptive coercion and medical experimentation on Black, Latina and Indigenous women, as well as inmates.
Given our mission of striving for excellence in health care for all, the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) supports the call initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional leaders for the Department of Homeland Security to launch a full investigation of the concerns raised by a former nurse at the detention center who attested that detainees, referred to a yet-unnamed physician, faced unwarranted gynecologic procedures.
It should be noted that a hysterectomy with oophorectomy is not only a form of sterilization; there can also be lifelong medical implications arising with the occurrence of forced early menopause, including increased risks of heart disease and osteoporosis.
An investigation should be undertaken into whether the facility capitalized on these detainees’ unfamiliarity with the U.S. health system and language barriers to further dispossess them of their rights to medical self-determination.
Informed consent is a fundamental right that protects the individual’s ability to consider whether to accept or decline medical procedures, and this includes reproductive care. Before informed medical consent is granted, patients must be told of any and all benefits, risks and alternatives, in the language most comfortable for the patient.
AMWA denounces any acts of forced sterilization and medical procedures conducted without obtaining a patient’s prior informed consent. AMWA considers this a basic human right to all.
AMWA supports an investigation into the claims levied against the Irwin County Detention Center. It endorses passage of the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act to affirm that anyone held against their will within the United States is treated with common decency and gets appropriate medical care.
Emily Wagner, Minneapolis, is a physician and member of the American Medical Women’s Association Advocacy Committee.