Medical Ethics Weakening in Cuba

Hospital Maternidad Obrera. Photo: Caridad

Yenisel Rodriguez

“How old are you?” the doctor queried.
“30,” the woman replied.
“So what are you doing trying to get an abortion at 30?” he probed.
“I was hoping to have a baby but things didn’t turn out.”
“Ah…” he then responded, sarcastically.

A friend had this conversation while enduring the hardship of the metallic coldness of one of the unbearable post-operative tables at the Workers Maternity Hospital (Maternidad Obrera) in Marianao.

She was being prepped by the doctor who would perform the medical procedure. The young woman had just been brought out of the first operating room where they had extracted the remains of a miscarriage that had occurred — shockingly enough — as she was walking down the street.

This meant she had lost her first wanted pregnancy only 48 hours after finding out that she was going to be a mother.

Yet for her, the most painful thing was not the loss or the pain, but the humiliation and abuse received from the doctor.

“The doctor who gave me his report wasn’t even careful enough to look at my chart in front of him that explained how I’d suffered a miscarriage. Had he taken the time to do that, he would have spared me those completely inappropriate questions,” explained my friend, someone who needed to share that unsettling experience.

She feared for the who knows how many women who’d be subjected to this physician. Her sense was that many of them would also be dealt with as being irresponsible before being able to receive an abortion.

“And me? Why do I’ve to pay the price for an oversight I didn’t commit? Why do I have to be interrogated as if I were some criminal using abortion for contraception? Is it because I looked all tousled and disheveled after what I’d just gone through that I didn’t deserve any respect or deference?  Is it too much to ask a doctor not to extrapolate his day-to-day routine onto mine? Is it a mistake to request that he not guess or presuppose things that he could find out by simply asking politely?”

The doctor presumed that my friend had miscarried deliberately, therefore he couldn’t avoid the inquisitional comment: “So what are you doing trying to get an abortion at 30?”

Perhaps, the amount of his salary takes into account the impact made on Cuban population growth by denying, at the precise time, abortions requested by women who arrive before the hospital’s on-call staff.

A few minutes had already passed since the conversation between my friend and me when she began to reconsider some of the arguments she had made in the heat of agitation. She recognized that it was legitimate for health care professionals to assume a certain dose of distance with regard to their patients, since they struggle daily with pain and suffering.

It’s also necessary to keep in mind that Cuba, just as Mexico City, is one of the few places in Latin America where access to abortion is free, which has caused the population of our country to not accurately perceive the risks implied by abortion as a method of contraception.

As a consequence, doctors see themselves “forced” to press on their patients so that they critically assess their decision to expose themselves to surgical interventions.

However, the total depersonalization of patients also has its affects – it cuts and burns, my friend concluded.

I’m therefore appealing to all Cuban doctors to personalize their services directed toward the public, as well as to systematize their professional ethics in such a way that they respect the legal rights that Cuban women possess in relation to receiving abortions. Proper treatment could be the best prophylaxis in the face of health problems, both psychic and biological.

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

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One thought on “Medical Ethics Weakening in Cuba

  • i think one that that guarantees a bad patient experience is a confident doctor and a patient with and obviously clear problem that also comes with social stigma as baggage. as soon as the doc sees the problem s/he is likely to pass judgement without searching for extraneous circumstances that would make this individual different from any other.

    this happens in the u.s. all the time as well, and i don’t think it is particular to doctors. humans love their habits, even if that habit is passing a specific kind of judgement on another person, that is what we collectively need to get past, its gunna be a lot of work.

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