Saudi Arabia: Saudi Woman Have the Choice of Life

Many times there are discussions about the rights of Saudi women.  They cannot drive.  The tradition and culture mandates that the Saudi woman must cover whether she wishes to or not.  The Saudi woman can not vote.  She must have approvals from her guardian (mahrem) in order to work, travel, open up a bank account or receive an education.  Yet unlike the American woman, if she is a Saudi woman diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer she has the choice of extended life.  Avastin is available to her.

Avastin is a drug which is received via an IV infusion.  Avastin combats the cancer by blocking access to the blood cells and thereby starving the cancer.  For many women diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer Avastin is the last stand between prolonging life or a quick death.  However the US Federal and Drug Administration has revoked its approval of Avastin this week stating that Avastin has not been proved to prolong life for a significant period of time and that its side effects pose too great of a risk. 

Now I can tell you from interacting with other Stage IV breast cancer warriors who received Avastin that what the FDA claims is not always the truth.  I’ve met women who have been taking Avastin for several years.  They no longer need to receive chemotherapy or other types of treatment because the Avastin is keeping their cancer at bay.  For these women, Avastin is truly their lifeline.  I’ve been on Avastin for more than a year now.  Until a month ago I was taking Avastin along with two different types of chemotherapy.  However I am now at the point where I am not receiving chemotherapy and solely relying on Avastin.

Avastin can have side effects such as increased high blood pressure, bloody nose, impact to the liver.  Because oncologists are aware of the risks, Avastin patients are closely monitored so that risks can be minimized and controlled.

With the announcement from the FDA many insurance companies have announced that they will no longer cover costs associated with Avastin infusions.  The average cost per year for a Stage IV breast cancer patient to receive Avastin is about US$88,000.  No; it is not cheap.

  Some insurance companies have agreed that women who are presently receiving Avastin will continue to be covered.  But…any newly diagnosed Stage IV breast cancer patient will not be eligible to receive Avastin…unless she were to self pay.

I’m still waiting to hear the ruling from my own insurance provider.  My next Avastin infusion is scheduled in less than a week.  It is nerve wracking and worrisome not knowing yet if I will be able to continue to receive the drug which is giving me the gift of prolonged life.

Yet women in Saudi Arabia who have been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer can receive Avastin with no questions.  It remains available for them.  Isn’t it ironic that a drug which has been manufactured in the United States is no longer available to many Americans yet women from around the world can easily receive it?

29 Responses

  1. 😦 I was sorry to read this the other day. I thought of you.

  2. Sooooo….it has side effects. But….isn’t the side effect of not taking it death? How can they possibly determine that death is preferable to increased blood pressure, bloody noses and/or liver problems?

    If I had a choice between life with high blood pressure etc. or death, I’d choose life. Who wouldn’t???

  3. Good luck with your insurance company. Perhaps Avastin could lower their prices for those whose insurance won’t cover it?

  4. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Yes, of course I thought of you immediately – at the moment you are the only person I know who is taking Avastin. Any chance of moving to Saudi (or some other Avastin-friendly location) to continue treatment if – God forbid – it becomes problematic for you in the States?

  5. Don’t forget that a Saudi woman cannot get treatment unless her owner allows her to. Isn’t that right?

  6. If a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer she can get treatment without having the approval of the mahrem.

  7. Well, that is good to know. Can she just go to any doctor, any time at all without ever needing her mahrem’s permission?

  8. sure a husband/father/brother would rather die then to deny someone from their family especially a woman of their medical treatment even if they had to drive her 1000 times to make her better. Can’t u see the good in a human being? Just because saudi society/culture doesn’t allow women to drive, doesn’t mean all mens hearts have been ripped out of their chests having no emotion for women.

    I think its disgusting what the FDA are doing..anything to save a pretty penny.

  9. @Bella – I have heard too many stories about the men in KSA refusing their wives or daughters medical care. The fact that they CAN refuse them medical care is ALL that matters.

    Also, what makes you think that the FDA’s decision had anything to do with saving money? My beef is with the pharmaceutical companies although, they do at times work with you and give freebies (in my SIL’s case)

  10. @Bella-Vita

    This is a reputable source, stating that in fact women do need male permission. While I don’t know of any anecdotal accounts of women not being allowed to go to the doctor, or even asking for permission. It is still appalling that this exists.

  11. Well its like i have heard stories of abusive mother and fathers refusing medical care for their children in the states wether it be cos they are plane old psycho’s or cos they believe in “alternative medicine” when the condition is serious..anyone can make up stories. Yes there are those who can abuse the power they have over an individual and in saudi I’m sure it happens as well as everywhere. A parent CAN refuse medical care (everywhere around the world) because being the guardian of that child, they have been put into the position of making those decisions..and can get away with not giving their child the medical care they need. I’m sure there are so many child abuse cases from parents to even count.

    “My beef is with the pharmaceutical companies although”..totally agree


    MSNBC reported on one Saudi woman who ignored her breast cancer because she was afraid of being seen by a male doctor. Another was divorced by her husband simply for thinking she may have the disease. A third was dragged away from the mammogram machine because the technicians were men. Even Fleming found that after her diagnosis she was discouraged from doing her own research about her diagnosis and treatment. Physicians assured her that “they knew what was best.”

    I REPEAT ‘Another was divorced by her husband simply for thinking she may have the disease’

    But I’m just crazy and cold for even insinuating that a man could be so heartless that they just might prevent their women from being treated. Yep I just can’t see the good in a human being. 😉

  13. Bella-Vita,

    You bring up a very good point. There are some American families, albeit a minority, that refuse immunizations due to fear of it leading to autism (which there is no sound scientific evidence for it). It is still not an apt comparison because their convictions are based on pseudo-science, not religion or encouraged by a patriarchal motivated society.

    A closer example is that some Jehovah’s witnesses refuse some forms of blood transfusions for themselves and their children, sometimes resulting in death. While that’s still not an accurate comparison, it’s still relatively along the same lines of thinking (religious motivation).

    The biggest difference is that it is not a law in the States that forbids families from blood transfusions, the choice is theirs. Even though there have been cases of courts intervening in favor of the child. Which is something the Saudi Arabia woman lacks.

    It should be noted that I have only used human rights watch as a source, While it’s a reputable source, I am not sure if there is in fact a Saudi declaration or law that enforces this.

  14. MSNBC is not really a reliable source for news. They are a bit skimpy on fact-checking.
    From personal experience here in the kingdom: An American female friend of mine fell and shattered both her wrists. Her American husband was in another city in the kingdom on business. My husband and I got her to the emergency room. She was given basic care,x-rays and admitted. She needed surgery.She received no other treatment, including pain medication, until her husband could be reached and give voice approval for her treatment and care. The result of that incident is there now a letter in the company office stating that any wife needing emergency medicare, while her husband is away on business, may receive whatever is neccessary. In other words, if our husband is away on company business, our ‘ownership’ is transferred from him to the company. Pretty absurd.

  15. Carol. my heartfelt prayers are with you. When I read the articl, my first thought was of you. One of my prayers is your insurance company will grandfather you in the coverage.

  16. @Linda – ‘MSNBC is not really a reliable source for news’

    Perhaps it isn’t but it seems that your personal experience seems to corroborate what I have understood which is that a woman gets treatment as long as her ‘owner’ gives his permission.

  17. I totally agree with Linda’s comment..i really hope ure insurance company comes through for you inshallah.

  18. True, Lynn. And it doesn’t matter what nationality you are. There are some who seem to think that American and other Western women get ‘special’ treatment here and we don’t.

  19. I know you were very worried about this happening and it seems it has happened. The drug companies are in it for the money so they won’t be making concessions for those women who’s plans won’t cover it. Very, Very sad.

  20. I can’t recall which comment was made contradicting that women could not receive care for breast cancer without approval from the male mahrem. As a result, I am quoting information provided by HRH Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud when I had interviewed her. (Princess Reema is the founder of Zahra which is the most renown organization in the Kingdom for breast cancer).


    Can a woman receive treatment and assistance for breast cancer in Saudi Arabia without the approval of a mahrem (male guardian)?


    Yes she can. The hospital does not require approval from the mahrem/male guardian.

    I cannot answer in regards to other types of care and treatment. It does seem that it can vary. There are husbands who do not want their wives to either be examined or treated by a male physician. However, there are numerous female physicians in the Kingdom.

    I want to say that I am ‘very cautiously optimist’ that I may be able to continue to receive Avastin. However, nothing is completely certain yet.

  21. hahah
    now thats really foolish of people to say how saudis live a nomadic life ..,

    well no wonder people are not aware its coz of the rule here ..

    NO saudis live a NORMAL life .,. said men love their women

    i before coming to saudi had same notions about said but when i came here i wound its all different,,,

    saudis love their wives , take them out for shopping ,, many acompany their husbends with their cute little kids ( 3 to 4 min) young couples ,,,,

    they go to hospitals they live a life thats well and why do others think the life they live sucks , THey been brought up such they feel no difference ,…

    IS llife just pubs discos and wine and women … well they have plenty of women they marry more than one some times ,,,

  22. saudis arent primitive any more , floks they are in internet they chat with males females , imagine the females have acces to computer and net ,, where in a socidety its a taboo to talk to a nonmehram and they very least get to talk to a stranger ,,, they are fast changing they arent this way any more

    wish an saudi calls me on cell.

  23. oh Carol sorry for you…. InshAllah your insurance company will cover Avastin….

  24. Lynn, “Don’t forget that a Saudi woman cannot get treatment unless her owner allows her to. Isn’t that right?”

    Her owner? I wonder why did you use this word than simply saying ‘guardian’…

    Also, what is the source of your information? ohhhh! MSNBC… ‘nuf said;)

  25. @Everyone

    Here’s a Saudi woman for you guys, ask her if she’s ever been denied medical care by a male guardian.

  26. I don’t think people realize how much music is a part of the culture in the Arab world.

  27. Women do need permission from their guardians for medical treatment here, though it is not always- and probably only rarely enforced.

    Personally I have not ever had this as an issue- nor anyone I know, to my knowledge. But if for whatever reason a guardian wanted to make a stink about treatment being given the law is on his side.

    I suspect people in the medical industry have a sense of who is likely to be the “type” that causes this kind of problem.

  28. @A Saudi Woman – ‘Her owner? I wonder why did you use this word than simply saying ‘guardian’…’

    Because the word ‘guardian’ doesn’t quite convey the disgust and contempt that I, as a woman, feel towards a system that treats women like children as Saudi Arabia does.

    Why would you bother to ask for my ‘sources’ when you know that what I say is a FACT? If you have a problem with MSNBC then perhaps you should explain your specific reasons why you don’t trust it. But, this ‘guardian’ system is not a secret even Arab News talks about it openly ;-).
    ‘The tradition and customs in our society warrant the presence of a man for any activity of a woman in public life. A male legal guardian, for instance, must accompany her when she sets out for a trip or goes to meet any requirements at most government offices. She is not in the position to lease a house or get ownership of a property without the presence of a male guardian. In a nutshell, a Saudi woman’s life is tied up with a man as if she could not lead a life without a male blood relative or husband.’

    @JC – Whether or not this ‘Saudi Woman’ was ever denied treatment is irrelevant to the FACT that, as Sandy has said, ‘Women do need permission from their guardians for medical treatment here’

  29. ‘@ Linda ‘There are some who seem to think that American and other Western women get ‘special’ treatment here and we don’t.

    Sorry Linda but just to correct you, the people who always mention these special treatment are the white expats in the Kingdom. otherwise how would people know about these special treatments? Personally I have come to know about preferential treatment to white westerners from western women mainly from blogs.

    Hope you get better Carol.

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