Daily Archives: Friday 19 February 2010

Friday Feminist – Christine de Pizan (3)

One day as I was sitting alone in my study surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects, devoting myself to literary studies, my usual habit,. my mind dwelt at length on the weighty opinions of various authors whom I had studies for a long time. I looked up from my book, having decided to leave such subtle questions in peace and to relax by reading some small book. By chance a strange volume came into my hands, not one of my own, but one which had been given to me along with some others. When I held it open and saw its title page that it was by Matheolus, I smiled, for thought I had never seen it before, I had often heard that like books it discussed respect for women. I thought I would browse through it to amuse myself. I had not been reading for very long when my good mother called me to refresh myself with some supper, for it was evening. Intending to look at it the next day, I put it down. the next morning, again seated in my study as was my habit, I remembered wanting to examine this book by Matheolus. I started to read it and went on for a little while. Because the subject seemed to me not very pleasant for people who do not enjoy lies, and of no use in developing virtue or manners, given its lack of integrity in diction and theme, and after browsing here and there and reading the end, I put it down in order to turn my attention to more elevated and useful study. But just the sight of this book, even thought it was of no authority, made me wonder how it happened that so many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are so inclined to express both in speaking and in their treatises and writings so many wicked insults about women and their behavior. Not only one or two and not even just this Matheolus for this book had a bad name anyways and was intended as a satire) but, more generally, from the treatises of all philosophers and poets and from all the orators – it would take too long to mention their names – it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth. Thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct as a natural woman and, similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept, princesses, great ladies, women of the middle and lower classes, who had graciously told me of their most private and intimate thoughts, hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscience whether the testimony of so many notable men could be true. To the best of my knowledge, no matter how long I confronted or dissected the problem, I could not see or realize how their claims could be true when compared to the natural behavior and character of women.

Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405

Memo to doctors: women are moral adults

A group of New Zealand doctors is challenging a proposed Medical Council guideline on abortion. The new guideline requires doctors to tell women who are unsure about their pregnancy that termination is a possibility. They are not required to provide the certification for abortion themselves (under NZ law, a woman must obtain signatures from two certifying consultants), they are certainly not required to provide the abortion themselves. However under the proposed guideline, they must tell women of the possibility of abortion, and refer them on to another doctor.

So this is an attempt to balance doctors’ freedom of conscience with patients’ needs. I’m already pretty unhappy with the balance in favour of doctors: why on earth should doctors be allowed to refuse to provide medical treatment in the first place. But this is hardly an imposition, that doctors should be required to tell patients about the possibility of a particular procedure.

I think the subtext from the doctors who oppose this new guideline is particularly nasty. It says that they will make moral decisions for their patients, because women can’t be trusted to make those moral decisions themselves.

I’m not interested in any medical doctor telling me what to think about moral issues. I’m interested in them telling me about what treatment options are available to me, what effects those particular options may have on me, what the likely outcomes are if we leave a condition untreated. But in no circumstance do I think that a doctor has any role in making moral decisions for me.

The text of the new guideline is under judicial review. It will be interesting to see what the court says about doctors as arbiters of morality.

Update: See the Queen of Thorns for an excellent snark about this, and there’s a discussion at The Hand Mirror too.