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Investigation Launched After Saskatchewan Indigenous Women Say They Felt Coerced Into Tubal Ligation

01/20/2017 01:41 EST | Updated 01/20/2017 04:40 EST

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan's largest health region has launched a review into concerns raised by some indigenous women who said they felt coerced into having tubal ligations after giving birth.

The women complained that they felt pressured by medical staff and others with the Saskatoon Health Region to undergo the procedure, which involves clamping or severing a woman's fallopian tubes and is considered a permanent method of birth control.

Four women have spoken to the health region so far.

"They expressed to us that they felt pressure from a number of different sources,'' said Leanne Smith, the health region's director of maternal services.

Smith said that included a questionnaire which asked about tubal ligation at the time of admission.

"That was not the best time to ask that question,'' she said. "And then I think they felt it from physicians and other health-care providers as they went through their experience.''

The health region previously apologized to two aboriginal women who had the surgery after giving birth at Royal University Hospital.

The review will be led by Yvonne Boyer, a lawyer and Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Health and Wellness at Brandon University, and Dr. Judy Bartlett, a physician and former professor with the College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Jackie Mann, the health region's vice-president of integrated health services, said they will be paid by the region, but it will be an independent process.

"They will conduct the interviews with the clients who are willing to have those interviews and with our staff, confidentially and independently, and then they will provide us with their recommendations,'' said Mann.

Mann could not say whether the review and subsequent recommendations would address compensation.

"They felt pressure from a number of different sources."

"This external review, really the purpose is to truly hear the stories of the women who come forward, to review what's currently occurring in our processes, to look at the changes we've made and for those reviewers to weigh in on those changes based on practices across the country and information that they will gather,'' she said.

The review is to begin later this month and is expected to wrap up this spring.

Smith said the Saskatoon Health Region has since changed its policy to require written documentation showing a woman had given consent for a tubal ligation before entering the hospital to give birth.

The new policy is designed to ensure consent is not given when a woman is in a vulnerable position, she said.

"When a person is in labour, there's often pain, anxiety that makes giving free and informed consent difficult.''

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