It has come to my attention this week that the Polish government is planning to introduce compulsory cervical examinations and smears for all women. This decision has arisen from the EU’s drive to prevent cervical cancer, but the Polish government is taking the campaign to a whole new level, making the smear tests mandatory for all women in employment. Any woman who refuses to undergo an examination can be made redundant and will face the same examination if she tries to find employment elsewhere.
This is the communication that has been received by various feminist groups/blogs/publications from a group of Polish women:
We are a group of Polish women who want to file a complaint against Poland concerning treating us by the Polish government, politicians and doctors.
As we all know, the European Union has joined in the prevention of cervical cancer. Poland has to do it as well as other European countries do. We all accept this and agree with it entirely. However, the Polish government wants to give an order so that women would be forced to undergo cytological, gynaecological examinations (also called cervical smear tests). In other words, the Polish government intends to make such examinations obligatory. The Polish Minister of Health wants to make women devoid of their work if they refuse to undergo these cytological, gynaecological examinations.
This bill is against the international human rights. In every civilized country that unfair idea would be rejected very quickly but in Poland such a thing has plenty of followers.
Our Minister of Health Ewa Kopacz is determined to force this bill at once. Ewa Kopacz is highly associated with Polish gynaecologists and oncologists who want to enforce that bill to earn money for themselves. Polish doctors such as Janusz Meder, Jerzy Giermek and Marek Spaczyński are the most powerful and important lobbyists in Polish parliament and such compulsion would be in their financial interests. Doctors demand so that every woman ranging in age of 25 and 59 would undergo the compulsory cytological examination. If any woman refuses to do so – she will be made redundant. Polish doctors and government do not care about women’s feelings, emotions and their mental health. They do not care about women who are virgins, or women who are victims of sexual violence, or just women who do not agree on such examination because it is humiliating when imposed upon them. Ewa Kopacz and Polish doctors do not care about women’s will and right to choose. They do not have any respect for women. But the most important thing is that they do not care about women’s health because women in Poland women who have cervical cancer have to wait so long for medical treatment that they often die though they could survive. (!)
The cytological compulsion will seize women’s right to choose and ability to make any decisions about their own body.
The cytological compulsory examinations transgresses precepts of the Polish Law. According to the Polish Law, women and men are of equivalent genders and they have the same rights to be treated with respect for their autonomy, self – determination and dignity. Besides, the Polish Law gives to all Poles the right to choose a doctor if they must undergo any medical examination and right to refuse such an examination entirely. Unfortunately, this law only works in relation to Polish men, not to Polish women. In Poland compulsory medical examinations are used only in relation to homicidal people but even such people are treated better than the Polish government is treating working women. In the Polish Law there is a ban imposed on discrimination in every place of work, regarding sex. The compulsory examinations of private parts of women’s body as a part of suitability tests for performing work is just disgusting. There is no analogous compulsory examination for working men because the government and doctors respect their rights. Polish men don’t undergo examinations at all though prostate cancer is much more occurring than cervical cancer ! In Poland we hear every day pressing and noisy propaganda – doctors claim that Polish women do not undergo the cytological examinations and they are not health conscious – that is not true! In Poland the public gynaecological surgeries are sleazy and doctors are boorish and gauche so women prefer to undergo cytological examinations in private surgeries. The public, boorish doctors can not earn enough money and that is the reason why they demand cytological compulsion in their surgeries. This blackmail – the obligatory examinations made by insensitive and boorish doctors or otherwise making women redundant is a scandal !
We have many women who have even trauma after being treated bad in the public surgeries in Poland.
We, a group of women who are writing this complaint, ask Your Organization for help. Could you broadcast our problem in Europe or even in the whole word and influence the Polish government to regard women and their rights for personal inviolability as essential? We are helpless because the government and Polish oncologists know well about our disagreement on such examinations forced upon us but they do not care about our rights and consult only their own interests. Even Polish journalist (especially from “Gazeta Wyborcza”) claim noisy in many items so that made women redundant after their refusal to undergo the gynaecological examination.
The petition can be found here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/intimate/
This proposal by the Polish government throws up a number of questions for me. Firstly, and most obviously I think, the ethical question of mandatory medical examinations. In theory, we here in the UK have free and indiscrimate access to health services (I said in theory…), but we are never subjected to that service against our will, except in cases of impaired judgement which I’m not planning to discuss here. We therefore are able to choose whether or not we engage with these services and with Western science and medicine. Is it really ethical to force people to undergo examinations that they don’t want? The Polish government will obviously argue that these examinations are to help prevent cervical cancer by detecting abnormailites before a cancer can form or develop beyond treatment and are therefore a good thing. Some people may also argue that preventative measures such as smear tests will reduce the future costs of treatments for cancer that could have been prevented had it been detected earlier. But neither of these arguments can truly answer to the ethical concerns of a mandatory examination. There was a lot of debate surrounding the mandatory PAP vaccinations that began rolling out to teenage girls in the UK a few years ago, but I do think that comparisons between these two cases would be strained.
The second question it raises for me is that of sexism. Women are not only being threatened with a compulsory medical examination, but also potential redundancy and loss of livlihood. But what about men? Is the Polish government planning to introduce mandatory prostate examinations? Nope. Where’s the logic and where’s the fairness? The EU’s push for cancer prevention is not specifically aimed at cervical cancer – it simply highlights that preventative examinations could be better publicised. Could the same not be said for prostate cancer and examinations? The only other mandatory medical examinations currently being carried out are those upon people who are deemed to have their judgement impaired. Associating ownership of female genitals so closely with intellectual or psychological impairment is harking back to the old days of hysteria with such furosity that I am quite honestly lost for words.
A third question, in keeping with the issue of sexism, is that women are being threatened with redundancy. For single parents, the majority of whom are unarguably women, this threat is incredibly dangerous.
But finally, this news raises very deep concerns about the current state of Poland’s health service. Now I know very little the workings about our own NHS, let alone Poland’s health service provision, but the sense of fear that is conveyed in this message regarding the treatment of women’s intimate examinations is terrifying. From a young age women in the UK are told by GP receptionists, magazines and television programmes that they can request to see a female doctor. But there is no mention of this offer being extended in Poland. Instead the women only refer to ‘boorish’ male practicioners. Is there a much deeper ideological problem with the treatment of female patients and exclusively female conditions in Poland? I really don’t know, but I would very much like to hear from anyone that does. A cervical examination should never be humiliating, and any patient who is hesitant about undergoing such an intimate procedure relies on trust with the practicioner. Why does this appear to be absent?
I would really like to open this issue up to discussion, so come on… get commenting.
Also, very importantly, the petition against the introduction of these mandatory smears can be found here if you choose to support these women: