Monday, October 16, 2017 - 25 Muharram 1439

Females visiting male obstetrician-gynecologists

We reviewed request no. 327 for the year 2008 which includes a question on the ruling for the permissibility of females being attended by male obstetrician-gynecologists.

Answer

It is established in Islamic law that when a woman is before marriageable individuals [Ar. Ajānib], she must cover her entire body except for her face and hands, and according to some scholars, her feet. A physician, midwife, or a person who administers injections must not look at a woman's ̔awrah [En. the parts of a woman's body that must be covered before marriageable individuals] beyond what is necessary.

The permissibility of a male physician attending a female patient is evidenced by the following legal maxims:

1. Necessity is measured by its extent thereof

The basic assumption is that female patients are required to visit physicians of the same gender whenever possible because this is less harmful. When this is not achievable and it is necessary for a male physician to look at a female patient's body, he must cover her entire body except for the affected area. Likewise, midwives must look at the private parts of other females only to the extent necessary.

Allāh says:

"[Oh Prophet] tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts."
Qur`an 24:30]


"And tell believing women that they should lower their glances and guard their private parts."
[Qur`an 24:31]

  

2. Necessity renders prohibited things permissible only to the extent necessary

This legal maxim is derived from the Qur`ānic verse on facilitating hardships. An example of this principle is the impermissibility of drinking alcoholic drinks or eating the meat of un-slaughtered animals, except at times of necessity, because these are times when exceptions are permissible. Allah says:

"He imposed no hardships upon you in religion."
  [Qur`an 22:78]

"Allah does not burden any soul with more than it can bear."
  [Qur`an 2:286]

'Necessity' is not restricted to life threatening situations only, but extends to include fear of debilitation due to disease, the progression of a disease or wrong treatments. The nature of the relationship between medicine and the preservation of the self (which Allāh has included among the five necessities of the objectives of Islamic law) necessitates that it builds its principles upon extreme caution.

3. Difficulty begets ease

It is important to show consideration at times of hardship. For this reason, Shafı̔ī scholars and others permit a female to choose the most qualified physician regardless of gender or religion. They further stated that if a qualified Muslim physician asks for a fee higher than that of a similarly qualified non-Muslim physician, then it is permissible to choose the non-Muslim over the Muslim. Note: A female patient must be chaperoned during clinical examinations.

4. The Ruling: The expertise of a qualified physician is necessary

It is permissible for a woman to be attended by a qualified male obstetrician-gynecologist during her pregnancy and delivery. Child birth is a necessity; it is a complicated procedure that requires the expertise of a qualified physician to ensure the safety of both mother and child. Furthermore, [in some cases] a physician cannot predict a high-risk delivery, hence the rationale of the ruling.

Allāh Almighty knows best.