Minister takes flak for comments on breast cancer screening
Agence France Presse
August 19, 2001

SINGAPORE'S health minister has come under fire from women's welfare advocates for his "callous" remarks about breast cancer screening and is being urged to make an apology, a report said August 19.

Lim Hng Kiang is taking flak for urging women, during a debate in parliament last week, to go for breast screening rather than spend money on a new hairdo, the Sunday Times said.

In a statement over the weekend Lim said he was "not trivialising the issue" when he equated the S$50 (US$27) it costs for a breast-screening procedure with a visit to the hair salon.

"Quite the contrary. It was to illustrate a serious point: that health is a personal responsibility and personal choices are required," Lim said.

A fellow MP and medical doctor, Lily Neo, earlier clashed with Lim in parliament over the breast screening issue and described his comment as "insensitive," adding that to many women, $50 was a lot of money.

Neo was urging the government to allow women to tap into their state-managed pension funds to pay for breast screening, but Lim argued that the cost was already subsidised.

The Singapore Nurses Association (SNA) and the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) rejected Lim's explanation and called it "a rationalisation of a callous remark," the Sunday Times reported.

The groups protested that it Lim's hairdo remark implied that women were frivolous with money and did not make rational choices. They said that for many women, a hairdo was "hardly an option."

"The minister's insensitivity clearly illustrates a gender-based prejudice in parliament and unfairly dismisses Dr Neo's effort at arguing her case," they said, according to the newspaper.

Aware's president Dana Lam-Teo told the Times that "in a more mature society, an apology would have been offered and accepted in grace."

It is rare in strictly governed Singapore for a cabinet minister to be personally criticized in strong terms and Lim, a respected former minister of national development, is not known to be a brash speaker.