What if you woke up from anesthesia and discovered that you were being given a pelvic exam by a doctor or intern in training? How would you feel if you knew you were being given an exam that required examing/probing your genitals and that a medical student had given you a pelvic exam without permission? In the majority of the United States it is legal for medical providers (usually medical students) to go into an operating room, and without a patient’s consent, perform a pelvic exam. However, most patients don’t know this happened to them.
Dr. Shawn Barnes spoke out in 2012 when she was a medical student and she later testified to change the laws in Hawaii about being required to perform pelvic exams on unconscious patients who hadn’t given explicit consent. Barnes says that patients signed forms written in vague terms that stated a medical student may be “involved” in their care. However, the forms didn’t alert patients that the care they received could include an internal exam while they’re under anesthesia.
Dr. Phebe Friesen states “Countries and states that have banned this practice have not been limited in their ability to effectively train medical students. There are other ways to teach that do not require a pelvic exam being performed on a patient that has not given consent and often doesn’t even know what has happened while they were under anesthesia.”
It is illegal to perform a pelvic exam without consent in the following states:
- New York
Pending: Minnesota, Massachusetts
Aside from pelvic exams, many of these states also ban rectal and prostate exams while under anesthesia. So how should you protect yourself? Look at what you’re signing at the hospital and ask if it might include a pelvic or similar exam. If your state does not ban these exams, you can always talk to the doctor or hospital and ask that they not perform any additional exams on you while under anesthesia. Doctors and hospitals will often comply even if the law is on their side.