Trinity Department Chair of Obstetrics condemns FGM comments

Department Chair and Professor of Obstetrics at Trinity, and Obstetrician at Coombe Women’s and Infants University Hospital, Deirdre Murphy, has condemned Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comments.

In an interview with Trinity News, Prof. Murphy condemned female circumcision and said “any Doctor who suggests female circumcision is medically indicated is deluding themselves”. She continued by saying that any “non medical person” who says the practise is “medically indicated” is “simply wrong”.

The comment comes in the wake of remarks made by Dr. Ali Selim, a lecturer in Arabic in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies at Trinity College. Selim made the statements to the Medical Independent, and later to RTÉ’s Prime Time. Speaking to the Medical Independent, Selim had stated: “Female circumcision is a matter that should be determined by a medical doctor. If the doctor thinks there is a need for it, then do it and if otherwise, then otherwise. If it is done, then it should be done carefully and safely and should be limited to the amount needed.”  

Selim furthered these comments on RTE’s Prime Time show, saying that female circumcision should be practised with a doctor’s approval. Speaking on the show, Selim said that he was not an “advocate of female genital mutilation,” rather an “advocate of female circumcision”. Following these comments, Selim stated in a Facebook post that “female genital mutilation, a crime and a violation to women’s rights, is a barbaric practice that I condemn in the strongest terms,” and finished by saying that “circumcision as a medical need” should not be banned.

Speaking to Trinity News, Prof. Murphy stated that “there is no medical indication for female circumcision and to suggest otherwise is misleading and incorrect”. Dr. Murphy said that her experience in “FGM is largely from my time working in the UK as an obstetrician caring for women from Sudan and Somalia”.

Prof. Murphy recalled two instances to Trinity News: “One young woman in her late teens was brought in by her brothers critically ill in late pregnancy with a placental abruption and dead baby. I needed to catheterise her as part of her emergency care in preparation for vaginal delivery. She had stage III FGM (complete infibulation) and before I could start her care I had to cut open her perineum (under local anaesthesia) in order to be able to catheterise her and start the labour process. The needless cruelty and barbarity of the situation has stayed with me 20 years on.”

Prof. Murphy continued: “Another beautiful quietly spoken young woman came in and laboured rapidly in her first pregnancy literally exploding her scarred perineum. I spent two hours in an operating theatre attempting to stitch bits of scarred fleshy tissue together with a sickness in my stomach knowing that the result would be lifelong pain and suffering in a woman who was only just embarking on motherhood.”

Prof. Murphy stated that FGM, female genital cutting and female circumcision are “synonymous terms for the surgical removal of all or parts of the female external genitalia in healthy infants, girls and women,” and said that the term FGM “embraces both the procedure and its consequences, which can be devastating”.

When asked on whether there had been previous attempts to differentiate between FGM and female circumcision, Prof. Murphy said: “These procedures are based in non-western cultures and the terminology does not originate in the English language. Female circumcision implies an analogy to male circumcision where the foreskin is removed from a boy or man. Female circumcision is far more invasive including removal of part or all of the clitoris, labia minora and/or labia majora with over-sewing of the perineum leaving a small orifice for urination and menstruation, hence the term FGM.”

Numerous groups have condemned the comments made my Selim. Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said in a tweet that FGM “is never ever justifiable, has no place in healthcare, is illegal, dangerous, can have a devastating impact & is in violation of human rights”. Ali Al Saleh, the Imam of the Islamic Centre in Milltown said: “This is a bad and terrible interpretation of Islam which is causing misery for us.”

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has also condemned his remarks. In a statement, the Union said that “backward” and “outdated,” and that his “dangerous views” were of “extreme concern to the Union”. TCDSU President Kevin Keane said that “a member of the academic community in Trinity must do better, and the university needs to take this transgression very seriously”.

College had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication.

Additional reporting by Seana Davis.