The Illusion of “Virginity” Deprives Women With Cancer of The Right to Motherhood
“Get permission from the Sharia judge.” This is what Reem’s gynecologist asked her to do, before agreeing to the process of freezing her eggs, and the only reason is “virginity”.
Because of the constant abdominal pain, Reem, 30, turned to a gynecologist at the beginning of September 2022.
The doctor conducted comprehensive examinations, after which it was found that there was a stable mass on one of her ovaries.
And after the first operation, through which the mass was removed along with the entire right ovary, it turned out to be a malignant cancerous mass.
Reem had not yet recovered from her shock, and had not fully recovered from the effects of the surgery, until the doctor told her that he had to remove the other ovary along with the uterus, because the cancer had spread to them as well.
A girl in the beginning of her life, barely reaching her third decade, the dream of motherhood fading before her eyes.
In the blink of an eye, they removed her ovaries, and in the next blink they will remove her entire uterus, but she decided not to proceed with any treatment or surgery until after her eggs were frozen.
Perhaps this is the only way to save her right to motherhood.
But the matter was not as easy as she expected, as soon as the doctors knew that she was unmarried and a “virgin”, they were reluctant to perform any medical procedure to withdraw her eggs.
Methods of Performing egg Retrieval for Unmarried Women
“For women who suffer from genetic diseases, or diseases that require chemotherapy or radiation, egg freezing is the appropriate solution to preserve their fertility and maintain their ability to bear children.” This was confirmed by obstetrician and gynecologist Maha Al-Rabadi.
She explained, in an interview with “Sharika Walaken,” that “the process of freezing eggs has more than one method. The eggs can be retrieved through the abdomen or through the vagina.”
She said, “Although the operation via the vagina is considered easier than going through the abdomen, in the case of unmarried women, doctors resort to performing the operation through the abdomen, in order to avoid scratching the hymen.”
She added, “Scratching the hymen is inevitable during the egg retrieval process. Therefore, most women prefer egg retrieval through the abdomen, before starting any chemotherapy treatments.”
These treatments affect the woman’s ability to reproduce, the functions of the ovaries, or stop the production of eggs, and may also affect the efficiency of the eggs produced.
Maha Al-Rabadi also pointed out that “any internal operation on an unmarried woman requires the doctor to perform an examination before and after the operation through a forensic doctor with the patient’s consent, so that the gynecologist is freed from his responsibility before the judiciary.”
And she stressed that “this operation is still expensive for some women, as its cost ranges between one thousand and two thousand dollars, which makes many women unable to perform it”.
“Permission from the Sharia Judge”!
Reem had to go to the Sharia Court to obtain the “Sharia’a permission”, which the doctor requested before she proceeded to freeze her eggs.
Every passing minute was like a countdown for Reem, and a race against time to save her motherhood.
Despite her knowledge that resorting to the Sharia court to obtain her permission in a medical procedure of absolute privacy does not have any meaning, rather it contradicts human freedom and rights.
But, Reem took her parents to the Sharia court, and there it was confirmed to her that her right to motherhood had nothing to do with the court.
The Sharia Court assured them that it had no authority in this matter.
It was nothing but more wasted time and effort, and more stress and pain, which are about to destroy Reem and her life.
But, she came close to the heights of frustration and despair when the doctor asked her to sign a paper certifying his disclaimer of any side effects she might experience during the egg retrieval process, which included the possibility of losing her virginity.
“Fear, shame, frustration and despair. All these feelings were mixed with each other when the doctor was talking to my parents about my virginity, as if it was more important than my health and my future!”
This is how Reem described the scene of the doctor explaining the details of the egg retrieval process to her parents, to make sure that they fully understand that the process may scratch the hymen, and so Reem will not be a “virgin,” as the doctor said.
The Opinion of The Law
In an interview with Sharia lawyer Iman Abu Dhiab for “Sharika Walaken,” she said that “there is no legal provision in the Jordanian constitution that requires the guardian’s consent to carry out any medical procedure.”
She explained: “However, the doctor is fully responsible before the judiciary in the event that he is charged with any accusation later, so the doctors resort to signing a document to release themselves from responsibility, not only before the judiciary, but also before the family and society.”
She added, “This measure is in the interest of women as well, so that they do not expose themselves to accountability later.”
Are women fully responsible for their Bodies?
Women’s consent to any procedure related to their bodies does not rest solely on them.
The issue is not only related to the imaginary “virginity”, but rather a guardianship over their bodies.
Even the egg retrieval process for married women requires the consent of the husband to perform the operation.
The reason is that the surgical procedure cannot be performed, and the eggs cannot be accessed, except through the vagina.
“I still have cancer, but the important thing is that I have a paper proving that I lost my virginity for a medical reason and not for any other reason,” said Reem, laughing.
She added, “In addition to illness, fatigue, and thinking about the possibility of losing my ability to have children, if I did not undergo this operation as soon as possible. But I’m still negotiating and looking for approvals, just for me, because of the virginity lie.”
Ruling on Freezing Eggs
In its session held on November 21, 2017, the Jordanian Council for Fatwa, Research and Islamic Studies approved that freezing sperm, pre-ejaculate fluids, or eggs, which are considered one of the emerging issues as a result of the progress and development of medicine, is permissible based on two general Sharia principles, namely:
The first: “The principle of medicine and treatment is accessibility and capacity.”.
The second: “preserving bloodlines from mixing, and observing the sanctity of the marriage contract.”
“If the owners of frozen sperm committed themselves not to fertilize them unless the marriage concluded a valid marriage contract, then there is nothing wrong with them using this method when they need it. And whether these sperms were withdrawn and frozen during celibacy or a previous marriage contract, it makes no difference. The important thing is that the sanctity of insemination is not violated except under a valid marriage contract when impregnated by the spouses.
Denial of The Right to Motherhood
Reem’s story is not different from that of Ibtisam, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 12, in 2005.
Ibtisam remembers how her stomach started to swell, which prompted one of her relatives to mock the matter, and she told her mother to run some tests for her, “so that you can see what is going on with your daughter!”
However, after examination at a center dealing with cancer treatment in Jordan, a 12-centimeter mass was detected that settled over one of the ovaries, which forced the doctor to remove the mass along with the entire ovary!
Ibtisam’s journey with fighting cancer continued until 2019.
And with the continuation of the operations from time to time, and the continuous eradication of the masses that appear at almost every periodic detection, she kept a large part of the left ovary, and she did not undergo chemotherapy at all until that moment.
At the end of that year, a mass of 3 cm in size appeared in one of the revision photos, and with other symptoms such as longer menstrual days than normal and a heavier flow than usual, she saw a gynecological oncologist working in the same center.
He assured her that the lump was a regular cyst on the uterus.
“Do not be fooled, it is only a cyst of water that does not affect anything, and I will write you a prescription for a medicine that regulates the menstrual cycle and the heavy flow.”
This is how the doctor dealt with Ibtissam, despite his prior knowledge of her medical history.
So, she had to perform off-center imaging to show that the mass had become 12 cm in size, was cancerous, and was pressing on the pelvis, which affects the nerves in the area.
After that, Ibtisam returned to the center, and to her old doctor, who ordered that she be given the first dose of chemotherapy immediately.
Until that moment, Ibtisam was not married, and she was only twenty-seven years old, but the proposal to completely freeze her eggs was not presented during all those years.
She told us, “There is no sperm bank in that center, unlike other hospitals in Jordan that treat cancer.”
Because of the high cost of the egg-freezing process, this process is not offered to patients who often go to the center with a medical exemption.
Chemotherapy cCauses Infertility!
“They tell the patient that chemotherapy may cause infertility, but they do not offer any alternative solutions. They may be afraid of paying the cost of freezing as part of the exemption!” Ibtisam said, continuing her story.
After I completed 4 intensive doses of chemo, the doctor decided to perform an operation to try to remove the lump, instead of chemo, because it didn’t work.
In August 2022, Ibtisam got married. But, her ability to conceive is very low, and may be non-existent, due to her poor egg stock.
“Be grateful that you are alive, you want children too!” One of the doctors answered Ibtisam’s question about not mentioning the idea of freezing her eggs during her treatment.
She said, “They cut off my line. They knew there were alternative solutions and did not tell me!”
Guardianship over women’s bodies takes different forms, imposing their views on their lives and future, and because of this, many women have lost the right to motherhood, due to societal imbalances and the illusion of “virginity.”
Despite all this suffering, Ibtisam still places all her hopes on her poor egg stock, which might give her and her husband a child.
As for Reem, she is still fighting cancer, and she is fighting with it her fear of what she will be exposed to after her recovery from society.
Her success in protecting her right to motherhood will make her lose her “virginity”, but she still clings to life.