Forced Orang Asli Birth Control May Be Assault

By Boo Su-Lyn | 12 July 2019

Dr Milton Lum says the Orang Asli’s allegations remind him of forced sterilisation in India in the 1970s.

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — A gynaecologist warned health officials that coercing Orang Asli women into taking birth control may lead to medical negligence claims, or even civil or criminal complaints for assault.

Dr Milton Lum, who is former Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president, criticised Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad for telling the Temiar Orang Asli women in Perak and Kelantan to first provide evidence of their claims of receiving forced birth control shots from health authorities, before he can initiate an investigation. 

“Whether the allegation is correct or not, only an investigation can determine that. You cannot say — ‘you give me the proof then only I start an investigation’,” Dr Lum told CodeBlue today.

“Consent is a fundamental principle in medical practice and medical law. The basis of it is very simple — everyone has a right to bodily integrity. That means no one can touch someone else without lawful excuse.

“If that happens, then the consequences can be a medical negligence claim, a complaint to the medical council, or civil or criminal proceedings for assault.”

The Malaysian Medical Council, which regulates doctors in the country, is chaired by Ministry of Health (MOH) director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. 

Dr Lum also questioned Dzulkefly’s explanation that the government’s family planning among the Orang Asli was meant to protect anaemic women from potentially harmful pregnancy.

“Contraceptives are not used in the treatment of anaemia. it’s a pathetic explanation,” he said, pointing out that iron and folic acid are prescribed for anaemia, not family planning.

Orang Asli women from the Temiar tribe in Hulu Perak, Perak, have reportedly accused health authorities of forcing them to take birth control injections. A Temiar villager from Gua Musang, Kelantan, also reportedly alleged that MOH officials, who visited Orang Asli villages in mobile clinics, threatened women in her village to take birth control shots or pills, or have their medical cards confiscated. Newlyweds with one child were allegedly targeted.

Dr Lum explained the procedure for prescribing contraceptives to women. First, the gynaecologist said he must be convinced that the woman does not want to become pregnant. 

Dr Lum said if she doesn’t want pregnancy now or in the medium term, then he will take her medical history and assess her medical condition to determine a suitable contraceptive for her, as certain birth control pills may not be appropriate for those with high blood pressure or blood clots.

He said oral contraceptives may be difficult for forgetful people as a pill must be taken every day, while others may not want the coil (intra-uterine contraceptive device, IUCD) because they don’t like foreign objects in their bodies. As for birth control injections, one’s period may not come at all and it can take a woman up to a year to get pregnant after stopping the shot. 

“You can also offer the male or female condom,” said Dr Lum. “After you inform, then you decide what to recommend. Let the woman decide which method she wants.”

Dr Lum questioned if MOH health professionals had done all of this for the Orang Asli, asking what was the government’s standard operating procedure.

“Such serious allegations remind me of forced sterilisation during Gandhi’s time in India,” he said, referring to mandatory vasectomies in India in the 1970s that saw over six million men sterilised in 1976 alone under Indira Gandhi’s administration. 

“The Orang Asli have rights also. They’re also human beings,” said Dr Lum.

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