Why Must Women's Medical Decisions Depend On Their Husband's Whims?

A Twitter user shared two of her experiences regarding people attempting to control a woman’s decisions, even when it came to medical decisions.

Ritika Joshi
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The inherent need to control women is often fuelled by patriarchy and misogyny. There are far too many cases of people attempting to control women, including women's medical decisions. Toxic and unbalanced marriages also often have husbands that attempt to control every aspect of their wife’s life, such as the food they eat, the clothes they wear, their hobbies, their job, etc. The need to exert control over women has escalated to such an extent that a women's medical decision also depends on the wishes of men.

A Twitter thread unravelled an interesting phenomenon of women's medical decisions being controlled by men. A user kick-started the conversation by tweeting that “A patient’s husband told her she’s not allowed to get a mammogram (essentially because he wouldn’t want her to get a mastectomy if needed)."

A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast used by doctors to find early signs of breast cancer. A mastectomy is a surgery to remove all breast tissue from a breast to treat or prevent breast cancer. Breast cancer does not always result in a mastectomy. The husband decided that his wife not checking for signs of breast cancer was preferable to her getting a mastectomy.

A Twitter user shared two of her experiences regarding people attempting to control a woman’s decisions, even when it came to medical decisions.

The first incident the user shared was about her and her sister getting diagnosed with breast cancer, getting mastectomies and reconstruction. Her mother said that the user should not have gotten a reconstruction as she was single. In the second case, the user’s younger sister was facing a possible diagnosis and decided that she would have the mastectomy and not the reconstruction. Her mother said, “that wasn’t her decision, it was her husband’s decision”.

A couple is more likely to get divorced if the wife falls sick rather than the husband, yet women's medical decisions still rely on the wishes of men.

While the medical diagnosis was the woman’s and her health would be affected, people still believe that a husband’s preference should be a major factor in women's medical decisions. The worst-case scenario in this type of situation is death, yet the person who is at risk isn’t the one making her own decision and other people are.


A Twitter user shared how her aunt passed away due to breast cancer because her husband didn’t want her to get her lymph nodes removed.

In Sickness And In Health? Not If You’re A Woman

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that the risk of divorce is higher for older couples when the wife, not the husband faces an illness. 75 per cent of couples dealing with chronic diseases end in divorce. While men are more likely to get sick than women when a woman falls ill the risk of divorce increases.

Another study conducted at Iowa State University found that the risk of a married couple getting a divorce increases by 6 per cent if the wife gets sick compared to when the wife stays healthy. The husband falling ill has no effect on the couple’s risk for divorce.

Why Are Divorces More Common If The Wife Falls Ill?

Researchers have several theories about why the risk of marriage increases when the wife falls ill.


A Twitter user revealed that they meet a 38-year-old woman with two children who refused dialysis. When the woman was asked why she was refusing dialysis, she said that her husband didn’t want her to get dialysis and become “a burden”. He would prefer if she passed away and then he would be able to remarry.

While the tweet implies that after wives fall ill, their husbands file for divorce, or wait for their wife's death, women are more likely to initiate divorces after facing an illness.

Women typically initiate divorces after facing an illness as they find that they are not receiving adequate support from their husbands.

Due to societal expectations and the association of caretaking with women, many men find themselves less qualified to play the role of a caregiver. Women are often assigned the role of the caregiver and if they fall ill, it can destabilise the relationship.

We Need To Talk More About Women's Health

Even as women face serious illnesses that impact their mental well-being and physical health, men are prioritised by the patient's family, the patient, and themselves. Some men try to control a woman's medical decisions on the basis of their preference rather than the woman's health, and some men prove to be incapable of caretaking when the roles are switched.


A life-threatening medical situation shouldn't have the added stress of "Will be husband allow me to prioritise my health?" It should be a given that the person facing a diagnosis and medical decisions should be the one making the decision.

Unfortunately, in many cases, people may assume they're entitled to every action a woman makes. The fear of judgement is what leads to more than one-fourth of abortions being performed at home. Women take dangerous steps to ensure nobody interferes with their plan for abortion, which can lead to maternal death.

When it comes to medical decisions, it should only be up to the patient. A woman needs to be informed about all their options and they should be allowed to make a decision. Neither family nor a spouse should be entitled to make medical decisions for them unless they are incapable of doing so.

Views expressed are the author's own

Suggested Reading: Stuck In A Bad Marriage? There Is No Wrong Time To Seek Divorce

Women's health divorce