Doctors Refuse To Treat Fat Women. Excuse Me?
Yes. You read that title right. It’s heartbreakingly true. According to this article, 15 OB/GYN practices in South Florida have set a weight limit and will not accept obstetrics or gynecology patients who weigh more.
“People don’t realize the risk we’re taking by taking care of these patients,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted Dr. Albert Triana of South Miami as saying. “There’s more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies].”
Why You Should Be Pissed At These Docs
My tweeps are already all a-Twitter about this news, and I’m livid right along with them. Who are these doctors to determine who can and can’t get care? And how dare they discriminate against a woman just because she’s overweight? You can guarantee that the overweight woman probably beats herself enough for her obesity, and the last thing she needs is to be rejected by her doctor when she’s pregnant or in need of gynecologic care. Way to kick a girl when she’s down.
It’s easy to get your blood boiling if you imagine that these misogynistic docs are sitting around the doctor’s lounge, making fat jokes and scheming up ways to discriminate against overweight women. You can just see them fighting over the weight limit and getting their jollies on by trying to define “fat.” You can imagine that these gynecologists only want pretty patients to do Pap smears on and they’d prefer not to deliver babies amidst rolls of vulva.
And if you feel that way and it pisses you off, you have every reason to feel that way. I certainly would, if I wasn’t an OB/GYN myself.
Why The Problem Goes Deeper Than These Docs
I’d be tempted to unleash one of my signature rants on the doctors in these 15 practices if I wasn’t a doctor myself. But let me go out on a limb for a minute and play devil’s advocate, just to shine a light on the other side so you can have a balanced understanding of this issue and choose how you feel with both sides illuminated.
Overweight women are at significantly greater risk of complications, especially in pregnancy and during surgery. Pregnant women are more likely to hemorrhage, have birth traumas, get C-sections, suffer from preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, and wind up with infected surgical wounds. They’re more likely to have emergencies that put their babies at risk and land the baby in the neonatal ICU. Overweight women who undergo gynecologic surgery are more likely to wind up getting their bowel injured, getting their ureter accidentally cut, hemorrhaging, or getting a wound infection. They’re all at greater risk of suffering rare complications like pulmonary embolism and maternal or infant death.
Blame Our Legal System
And the reality in our litigious society is that when bad things happen, people sue. And Florida gets hit harder than almost anyone these days. My father was a doctor in Florida and lost a lawsuit that led to the demise of his career. He also spent his entire career paying big bucks of his salary into what they call the “bad baby” fund. In other words, lawsuits against obstetricians in Florida wind up with such HUGE payouts to those who have bad outcomes that all doctors must help cover the malpractice insurance of Florida obstetricians. Otherwise, Florida would have no obstetricians.
Why is Florida in such bad shape when it comes to malpractice? Unlike California, they have no tort reform. A runaway jury can decide to payout 100 million dollars if they feel sorry for someone who suffered a bad outcome, even if nobody was really at fault (because sometimes, in hospitals and doctor’s offices, bad things just happen and nobody’s to blame).
So although I think what these doctors are doing is despicable, I understand it. Most likely, they’re not total misogynists plotting against overweight women. Most likely, they’ve been sued and they’re looking at their statistics, and they’re realizing that most of their lawsuits come from overweight women, and they’re scared into doing the wrong thing.
I get why they’re scared. And I see the rationale behind their decision. And it’s not illegal to discriminate in this way (although I think it should be).
So yes, we should be implementing malpractice reform if we’re going to vilify these doctors.
They Should Be Ashamed
But that’s all I’m going to say to defend these doctors because I think the whole thing is disgusting, and it makes me sick to my stomach. Even if I understand it, I still think it’s just plain wrong. When you sign up to be a doctor, you sign up to serve whoever walks in your door. Or, sadly, at least whoever’s insurance you accept. It’s a violation of civil rights to pick and choose which patients you prefer to help, in my opinion.
What if all doctors in South Florida were to ban obese women from their practices? Would those women have to move? And what if other doctors did the same thing? What if overweight women couldn’t find a surgeon when they have breast cancer or a primary care doctor to help with their diabetes or a gastroenterologist when they have ulcers?
It’s horrible. And even though I get it, those doctors should be ashamed of themselves. Although what they’re doing may be legal, it’s clearly unethical. Those doctors all swore by the Hippocratic Oath, which clearly states, “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”
Discriminating against women because of their weight does immeasurable harm and fails to do good.
Shame on you, doctors. Shame on you.
What do you think of this nonsense? What should we do about it? How does this make you feel?
Feeling sad about how broken my profession is,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.