South Africa leads as global medical body condemns forced anal exams


A resolution by the South African Medical Association condemning the use of forced anal examinations for evidence of consensual homosexual conduct has been adopted by the World Medical Association (WMA)

The WMA, which accepted the resolution at its General Assembly in Chicago last week, is an international organisation consisting of national medical associations from 111 countries.

Forced anal examinations, based on discredited 19th century science, often involve doctors or other medical personnel forcibly inserting their fingers, and sometimes other objects, into a person’s anus to attempt to determine whether that person has engaged in anal intercourse.

“The jury is no longer out. There is no excuse for governments to continue conducting forced anal exams on people accused of homosexuality,” commented Neela Ghoshal, senior researcher on LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch. “The World Medical Association has added its voice to an overwhelming consensus that forced anal exams are unethical, unscientific, and unjustifiable on any grounds.”

Doctors must lead in ending the abuse

The WMA resolution calls on national medical associations to issue written communications prohibiting their members from participating in the exams, and to educate doctors and health workers on the issue.

It also calls on the World Health Organisation to make an official statement opposing forced anal exams as unscientific and in violation of medical ethics.

The resolution, proposed by the South African Medical Association with the support of Human Rights Watch, has been through a year-long review and feedback process. It passed unanimously, with two abstentions.

At the General Assembly session, the association also adopted a revised “Physician’s Pledge,” which calls on doctors to refrain from discrimination on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation.


The exams continue in a number of countries

Tunisia recently accepted a recommendation to end the exams, although it remains to be seen whether it will rigorously enforce the ban.

The Kenya Medical Association, in September, became the latest medical association to condemn the use of forced anal examinations, although the Attorney General’s Office has attempted to defend their use.

Other countries lag behind. In Egypt, men and transgender women arrested on charges of “debauchery” are systematically referred to the Forensic Medicine Authority, a branch of the Justice Ministry, for forced anal examinations. Since late September, at least five Egyptians have been subjected to forced anal exams as part of a vicious crackdown after several young people waved rainbow flags at a concert.

In Tanzania in late 2016, police resorted to forced anal examinations to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct for the first time, as part of a broader campaign against LGBT people.

Other countries in which Human Rights Watch has documented the use of forced anal exams between 2010 and 2015 include Cameroon, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and Zambia.

“Doctors play a critical role in upholding ethical standards and are often part of the moral compass of society,” Ghoshal said. “In Egypt, in Tanzania, and in all countries in which people are being subjected to forced anal examinations, doctors should take the lead in ending these horrific abuses.”

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