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Emeritus Professor Sittampalam Shanmugaratnam (4 July 1928–6 August 2001) was the professor and head of the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the National University Hospital of Singapore specializing in human reproduction research. His work on contraception contributed to Singapore's success in population control. The National University Hospital research laboratory for prostaglandin research was initiated and propelled by his vision and energy. He was also the founder of the IVF programme which has given hope to many childless couples. Shanmugaratnam shortened his own name to Shan Ratnam, and he is credited as S. Shan Ratnam in all official media.

Early life[edit]

In an interview in 1995, Ratnam said that his father had settled in Malaya for three generations while his mother came from Ceylon.

Ratnam claimed that it was an old practice among local-born Indian men to marry brides born from their native country. However, such brides usually return to their native country for confinement after marriage.

Ratnam was born in Chullipuram, Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 1928 to parents of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. He returned to Kuala Lumpur at the age of six months and spent most of his early life there. In the meantime, his father worked in the courts, and became the Official Assignee of the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur just before the Japanese Occupation in 1942. During his early years, Ratnam was greatly influenced by his mother, who taught Ratnam the Tamil language as well as the Ramayana (Tamil scriptures). At the age of six, his mother had told him to help others instead of praying at the temple, saying:

You don't need to pray. You don't need to go to temple. But every day, try to help someone. That is the better form of prayer than going to temple. And try never to say no to anybody. Because when you say no, you hurt somebody. Even if it is something that you have to give, just give. In giving you help people.

Ratnam's mother's ideologies greatly influenced his later life. In the interview, Ratnam confessed that he never tried to say "no", and in the case of saying "no", he would always find time to analyze to see what he had done was the right thing and whether he could have avoided saying "no".

Ratnam's father was nearly killed by the Japanese and was instructed to be beheaded within one to two days time due to his impulsive nature not to obey the Japanese troops. A Japanese woman who was married to an Indian man managed to save his father just before he was beheaded.

Ratnam's mother, who was already stricken with rectum cancer for at least three and a half years, was taking marijuana and opium to soothe her pain. She died at the age of 38 during the Japanese Occupation. This ordeal changed Ratnam's mindset to become a doctor from engineering.

Ratnam also witnessed the death of his youngest sibling, then four years old, from tuberculous meningitis during the Japanese occupation. Ratnam also had three other siblings with his parents, which included an older sister.

Life accomplishments[edit]

As a young man, Ratnam began his career as a houseman (trainee medical officer) at the Singapore General Hospital in 1959. He also began teaching at the University of Singapore in 1963.

After obtaining his M.R.C.O.G (and later, the F.R.C.S.) in 1964 in England, he was coveted to the post of Professor and Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Singapore, a post which he held for 25 years.

In 1972, Ratnam's Obstetrics and Gynaecology department received the accolade as being one of 13 research centres in human reproduction in the world, recognition conferred by the World Health Organization.

In 1970 he was made Chief Examiner and Director (1972) of Postgraduate Medical Studies at N.U.S. Member of editorial boards of several learned journals, including, International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, and International Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Studies.

Ratnam contributed greatly to reproductive biology and won worldwide acclaim for his work. A book, 'Cries from Within', was written to explain the procedure for sex change operations in 1970. He also contributed greatly to his medical works by giving Asia its first test tube baby through the In-vitro fertilization process in 1983. Ratnam tried out IVF experiments on rats prior to his first, successful attempt on using IVF to conceive babies.

In 1977, he was awarded the Singapore Public Administration Gold Medal. His learned articles and conference papers run into the hundreds, and he has 15 edited or co-edited books to his credit (Cf. Library of Congress Online Catalog, under Name Browse: Ratnam, S.S.)

Ratnam served as the secretary general of the Asia and Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for seventeen years, and member of the executive board of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology from 1969 to 1982, president-elect from 1982 to 1985, and president from 1985 to 1988. Ratnam was also the visiting Professor in the UK in 1982 and South Africa in 1994.

In 1987, he also pioneered the procedure of giving birth to a baby born from a frozen embryo. The world's first micro injection baby via human ampullary coculture was also contributed by him in 1991.

Ratnam also greatly contributed to gynaecology in terms of his paper works. He had credit to 378 research papers in the referred International Journals, 232 research papers in the referred local and regional journals, including nineteen non-referred journals.

His career as a research scientist and teacher continues unabated at the National University of Singapore despite his official retirement in 1998, as Emeritus Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. He is reputedly a noted world authority in sex changes operations, breaking new ground in transsexualism, embryo replacement, in vitro and control of fertilisation.

His work with transsexual patients is shown in a documentary called "Shocking Asia". In this documentary, he is shown talking about his background with transsexual patients. He talks about how he first got involved with "the problem" (referring to the patient's penis) and how he used cadavers to come up with his technique of sexual reassignment surgery. It also shows his assistant, Dr Lim, taking some final pictures of a patient before her surgery.

Later years[edit]

Ratnam's driving licence was suspended after an experience of driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Ratnam suffered a stroke in December 1999.

He died at 6.55 p.m. on 6 August 2001 in the National University Hospital of Singapore, due to pneumonia.



  • 1957: MBBS Hons, Ceylon
  • 1964: Certificate in Exofoliative Cytology, London Postgraduate School of O&G, 1964
  • 1964: MRCOG
  • 1964: FRCSE (O&G)
  • 1977: IRACS
  • 1970: University of Singapore (MD)
  • 1982: Sims Black Travelling Professorship, RCOG, UK
  • 13 Honorary memberships, fellowships and degrees


  • 1957-61, Singapore General Hospital, Trainee Medical Officer
  • 1961-62: Kandang Kerbau Hospital
  • 1963-68: Department of O&G, University of Singapore, Lecturer
    • 1968-69: Senior Lecturer
    • 1970-95: Professor and Head
  • 1969: Chairman, ctee for O&G, Graduate School of Medical Studies, National University of Singapore
  • 1970: Chief Examiner, M Med in O&G, National University of Singapore
  • Member, National Planning and Population Board
    • Singapore Planning Asoociation
      • 1971-2001: Member
      • 1972-82: President
      • 1983-84: Council Member
      • 1985: Emeritus
  • 1958: Member, Singapore Medical Association
    • 1964-2001: Member
    • 1969-72: President
    • 1977-78: President
    • 1979-93: Council Member
  • 1988: Director, Graduate School of Medical Studies, National University of Singapore
  • 1969-71: Chairman, Chapter of O&G, Academy of Medicine, Singapore
    • 1957-2001: Member
  • 1968-2001: Member, Royal Society of Medicine, UK
  • 1968-2001: Member, British Medical Association

Honours and awards[edit]

  • Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa), University of Colombo .
  • Honorary Fellowships of Obstetrics and Gynaecology societies in Japan, Australia, UK, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Israel, Korea, U.S.A., and at the West African College of Surgeons.


Many of his former students are now members in the O&G field including the current head of department at the National University Hospital, Dr P.C. Wong. He was a staunch Hindu during his lifetime. He had two children; one son and one daughter. A centre at Camden Medical Centre was named after him, SSR International (Private International). The centre is currently run by his nephew C. Anandakumar.


  • Who's Who in Singapore, by Who's Who Publications, Low Ker Thiang
  • (Cf. Library of Congress Online Catalog, under Name Browse: Ratnam, S.S.)

External links[edit]