Montreal — The Quebec college of physicians has issued a warning to doctors to stop performing virginity tests, a practice linked to bridal purity and family honour.
Gynecological exams for virginity certificates contravene the profession's code of ethics on several grounds, including breaching patient confidentiality, said Charles Bernard, president of the Collège des médecins, in an interview.
The practise is outrageous, repugnant, irrelevant and unacceptable, he said.
"Imagine a doctor who does a gynecological examination with the sole purpose of … it goes beyond the imagination. And it's degrading to women," Dr. Bernard said.
The College was responding to a study by two ethics specialists from the Université de Montréal who were called upon by a school nurse and other health professionals after five incidents of families seeking virginity checks in the last 18 months in Quebec.
'It's a taboo practice and it's hidden'
The ethicists were initially contacted by a clinic nurse who was asked by a young woman in her 20s during a routine medical checkup whether "she was still marriageable." She had asked the nurse to check if her hymen (a piece of tissue that lines the vaginal opening) was still intact.
Two weeks earlier, the researchers got a call about an adolescent who had been forced to undergo a chastity test. The distressed girl raised the issue with her school nurse, who reassured her that such things are not done in Quebec — but then, the girl's family forced her to go to a clinic.
Some doctors have admitted to providing fake proof of virginity, without having performed a chastity test, "in the interest of harm reduction to save a girl's honour," said ethicist and UdM researcher Marie-Ève Bouthillier,.
There are no statistics on the frequency or scale, she said, "because it's a taboo practice and it's hidden."
"But this is a problem and these are not isolated cases," added Claire Faucher, assistant clinical professor at UdM's faculty of medicine, who, along with Dr. Bouthillier, conducted the research that led to the College guidelines.