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The right to procreate is a basic human right

Dr S Subramaniam

COMMENT | Is forced contraception on Orang Asli true?

The above subject has raised serious concerns amongst Malaysians.

The explanation by the Health Ministry did not allay the anxiety amongst Malaysians.

Severe anaemia in pregnancy is a serious problem. Medical schools devote an entire chapter on "Anemia in Pregnancy " as part of their undergraduate curriculum. (It was when I was a student).

I remember as a Medical Officer in the rural areas of Malaysia, identifying pregnant ladies with anaemia and subsequently infusing intravenously a calculated total dose of iron as a treatment for iron deficiency anaemia.

As a precautionary measure, we used to observe the patient for a few hours before sending them home. Now there are better tools and safer alternatives.

The clinical decision to advise ladies to postpone their pregnancy until their health status permits is acceptable. 

This clinical intention has to be managed professionally. It has to be a joint effort with the total involvement of the patient. 

Patient education and consensus-building are essential. 

While presenting a memorandum in Parliament, the Orang Asli representatives voiced out concerns on coercion and force.

That does not sound like Malaysia or the Health Ministry that I know. 

Forced contraception is neither the privilege nor the responsibility of the Health Ministry. 

It raises many questions for which honest and truthful answers should be forthcoming.

1) Is this accusation of forced contraception true?

2) If other anaemic women are managed differently, why are there differing policies for differing groups?

To be blunt, the question that has unfortunately been ignited in the minds of many Malaysians is whether this is only a health issue or is it beyond health?

I pray that it is still within the realms of health. 

As a former health minister, I am disturbed by the possibility of such a practice. 

This issue was never brought to my attention by anyone during my tenure as health minister even during my formal and informal visits to Orang Asli villages. 

We have had many discussions on the nutritional status of Orang Asli and the challenges faced in availing health programmes to the nomadic groups but the issue of forced contraception was never highlighted. 

The Health Ministry is manned by highly qualified professionals with the highest integrity. 

They will not do anything beyond the calls of their duty. 

As it occurs, sometimes there are some who in their overzealous desire to achieve a targeted goal, go beyond the borders of "what is possible" into the realms of "what is not possible".

If that be so, it is high time we conduct a thorough review and develop much clearer and stricter guidelines.

At the end of the day, we want healthy Orang Asli women giving birth to healthy babies. 

The right to procreate is a basic human right.

DR S SUBRAMANIAM was the health minister from 2013 to 2018.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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