Have you seen the photo of Daniel Sanchez looking at the camera while another doctor attends to the nether regions of a naked woman in active labour?
According to Vice, a Venezuelan student obstetrician took a selfie with one of his patients’ vaginas as she was giving birth and then posted it to Instagram. Sanchez cheekily captioned the image with, “Lady I can deliver your baby but first let me take a selfie.”
Vice reported that aside from the photo, the student doctor also bragged that he and his team “bring kids into the world and reconstruct pussies.” And the women in his care could also expect their vaginas to be “brand new, like a car with zero kilometres on the clock,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, outrage ensued following Sanchez’s post and, according to Closer, 47,000 people signed a petition requesting that he be disciplined.
In an attempt at a justification, Sanchez reportedly stated that he had received consent to take the photo and that the image wasn’t disrespectful because “you cannot see her genitals or her face.” Nevertheless, his Instagram account has since been set to private.
Before I move any further, I just have to say that I don’t believe any woman in the throes of active labour would be in the frame of mind to give consent. I also find it incredibly hard to believe that the selfie would have been met with equanimity; no matter how Ferrari-like her vagina was afterwards. But that’s just me.
If someone tried to take a selfie with me in that moment, they’d find it very difficult to locate their phone afterwards. It is utterly horrid, vulgar, disrespectful and outrageous. A woman is not a thing, her vagina is not a car and somebody needs to tell Sanchez that his patients are the ones bringing babies into the world, not him.
In a broader context, the big question mark dangling above this whole affair is what rights women have when it comes to the privacy of their bodies while in the care of medical staff. Do women have any legal recourse?
This is a tough question to answer with precision. At present, the U.K. does not have a dedicated privacy law. This means that, currently, any alleged breaches of privacy are dealt with on a case-by-case basis by employing law torts, such as the breach of confidence, in combination with articles of the Human Rights Act 1998.
When it comes to photography, the U.K. does not recognise a right in one’s own image. That is, just because a photo is taken in secret, doesn’t mean its contents are automatically considered confidential. However, in the landmark case of Campbell v MGN Ltd, Naomi Campbell successfully sued MGN Ltd for photographing her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. In the ruling, Baroness Hale stated that “the activity photographed must… be confidential and there must be an expectation of privacy.” This was found to be the case in Campbell’s situation.
It follows that the same logic could be applied to photographs taken of a woman in labour; it’s not a stretch to assume that most women expect privacy while in labour. Still, there is no way of knowing how it would hold up in court.
There is some good news, however: Medical codes of conduct and ethics exist. The British Medical Association Medical Ethics Department offers very clear, U.K.-wide guidance. The document titled “Taking and using visual and audio recordings of patients” advises that doctors must:
- Give patients the information they want, or need, about the purpose of the recording
- Make recordings only where there is appropriate consent or other valid authority for doing so
- Ensure that patients are under no pressure to give their consent for the recording to be made
- Where practicable, stop the recording if the patient requests this, or if it is having an adverse effect on the consultation or treatment
- Anonymise or code the recordings before using or disclosing them for a secondary purpose, if this is practicable and will serve the purpose
- Disclose or use recordings from which patients may be identifiable only with consent or other valid authority for doing so
- Make appropriate secure arrangements for storing recordings
- Be familiar with, and follow, the law and local guidance and procedures that apply where they work
Further, the General Medical Council clarifies that recordings intended for use in widely accessible public media (television, radio, internet, print) must meet several guidelines. The first of these advises doctors that they “must get the patient’s consent, which should usually be in writing, to make a recording that will be used in widely accessible public media, whether or not you consider the patient will be identifiable from the recording.” (There is an exemption for recordings of internal organs and X-rays.)
Which, in short, means that any U.K. doctor who wants to follow in Sanchez’s footsteps would find himself or herself in a great deal of trouble.