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Saudi ministry reaffirms female patients consent and not ‘male

RIYADH: The confusion surrounding whether women need a male guardian’s permission to undergo vital childbirth procedures, including C-sections, was cleared on Wednesday.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it had eased the way for expectant mothers to make their own decisions over medical interventions.
Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abdulaali said patients’ rights were a “top priority” in meeting the Kingdom’s ethical standards in health care.
“Female patients’ rights are handled with a great deal of attention and effort,” he added. “Women are provided the right to give their consent for medical care, including surgical procedures, in accordance with the policies and procedures.”
He stressed that this is “nothing new,” but part of ongoing “efforts to engage the community and promote positive behavior.” He said it is an “awareness campaign” that could potentially save many lives.
Dr. Emad Sagr, chairman of the women’s health unit at the International Medical Center in Jeddah, said the ministry’s announcement has cleared up any confusions.
Previously, he said, there had been no firm guidelines in place to inform medical professionals on female rights of consent without first getting a male guardian’s permission.
This uncertainty had the potential to put pregnant women at risk, particularly if a C-section was urgently required, he added.
“Twenty years ago, we used to go by the fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law),” Sagr told Arab News.
“I’ve never waited for the consent of a male guardian, as there’s nothing clear in Shariah law which states that a pregnant woman isn’t allowed to have a say about her own body.”
He said the ministry’s statement also covered general surgical interventions on women. “It’s the individual woman’s life that might be at stake, and they should have the right to protect themselves,” Sagr added.
He said the only procedure that required both the husband’s and wife’s approval was “sterilization.”
In the past, some hospitals adopted their own policies surrounding informed consent for female surgical interventions. If a male guardian refused to give his consent, the matter was referred to an ethics committee.
In the future, consent to treatment will only have to be gained from the next of kin, not necessarily a male guardian, if the patient is under the age of 18.
“Hospitals are now bound by the consent form signed by a female patient,” said Dr. Yassir Kalakitawi, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the King Fahad Armed Forces Hospital in Jeddah.
“If a male guardian disapproves, he is then referred to an ethics committee to discuss the matter further.”
Dr. Firas Jameel, a GP, said whenever possible, doctors would still always recommend that families discuss any intervention procedures in advance with medical experts.

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