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House of Lords Hansard
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23 January 2020
Volume 801

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to ban repair of hymen surgery.

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My Lords, no one should undergo any surgical procedure that they do not want or need. Pressuring a female partner or family member into having an unnecessary surgical procedure is never acceptable. The Government are investigating hymen repair surgery, and we will take all necessary action to ensure that all vulnerable women and girls are protected.

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I thank the Minister for his reply. As noble Lords will have gathered, hymenoplasty is the so-called restoration of virginity, and it is not illegal in the UK. It is carried out in private clinics, by and large, and apparently costs about £3,000 a go. The Sunday Times revealed that NHS facilities were used to carry out this procedure 82 times in the past eight years. The noble Lord is quite right: clinicians agree that there is no medical reason for the restoration of the hymen, so why is that procedure available on the NHS? No explanation was given to the Sunday Times when it asked why the procedure was delivered. I think the noble Lord and I would agree that the NHS should not be offering a procedure designed to perpetuate harmful myths about virginity and threats to vulnerable women and girls.

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The noble Baroness is absolutely right about harmful myths. The Government are deeply concerned about the climate in which this industry is operating. We will be looking into how the frameworks are being applied by the GMC, the CQC and the ASA. On her specific question about the NHS, there were around 82 cases according to the records available. Very sadly, there are cases of abuse and rape—and, I am afraid, of fear of death—that may, even with the best counselling available, give a young woman or girl a good reason to ask for this procedure. It is under such circumstances that the NHS provision has been made.

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My Lords, will the Minister consider the response given to me five years ago by Yazidi Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad when I first met her in Baghdad? She said that the most humiliating thing that happened to her after her trauma was when an international NGO approached her and said, “May we repair your hymen?” Perhaps the Minister could organise a meeting for me with the 10 violated young Yazidi ladies who will be in your Lordships’ House in 10 days’ time so that they can explain to the Royal College of Surgeons the proper treatment of young women in this situation.

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My noble friend describes an extremely distressing situation. I am very grateful to her for meeting me yesterday to discuss specifically the situation with the Yazidis. The NGOs involved might have been well-intentioned but their offers of either devirginification or hymenoplasty were clearly wrong-headed. Clearly, there is a gap here that needs to be filled and I would be glad to do whatever I can to arrange a suitable meeting.

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My Lords, in November the US rapper TI revealed in a blog that he had paid for hymen checks on his 18 year-old daughter and got the doctor to give him the result. In 2018, three United Nations agencies condemned such tests, the WHO saying that

“this medically unnecessary, and often times painful, humiliating and traumatic practice must end.”

Can the Minister confirm that this process will be examined and banned in the UK, along with hymenoplasty?

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The noble Baroness is quite right. It is extremely distressing to hear of these stories. The Government are absolutely determined to catch up and review exactly these kinds of procedures. The full scope of the review is under analysis at the moment, but the suggestion of including such examinations is a good one, and we will look at it carefully.

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My Lords, while totally supporting the Question asked by my noble friend, does the Minister not agree that one of the problems here is that a number of women have had genital mutilation, for whom repair of the whole vulva is quite often important, as it is, for example, after obstructed labour? Inevitably, there is likely to be a confusion about hymenial repair. Therefore, a total ban might lead to more legal problems than are immediately obvious.

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The noble Lord touches on the key dilemma of this issue. Cosmetic surgery is appropriate in many circumstances. There are many women who wish to repair damage, for instance from childbirth. A blanket ban would not help them. The key issue here is consent. Are those undergoing this procedure truly consenting to it and what is the ethical climate in which that decision has been made? Important questions have been asked about that climate, and the Government are determined to look at it closely.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as an elected member of the BMA ethics committee. What levers do the Government have to look at the ethical framework within which consent is sought for such procedures? Any woman coerced into consenting to surgery that distorts her genitalia is herself being distorted and abused, and made into an object of sexual gratification for a man. In fact, the outcomes do not support that it improves sexual function in the men, who may need counselling on sexual dysfunction.

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There are three key frameworks. The GMC oversees how medical practitioners coach and deal with those applying for this procedure. The CQC looks at the premises and procedures of organisations that offer this and the ASA looks at how they are advertised. Looking at the advertising on the internet is a very gruelling experience: I would not recommend it to anyone after a meal. Clearly, a massive question needs to be asked about whether the advertising climate in which these procedures are presented really respects the advertising code and is the right kind of climate in which to bring up our children.