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Can doctors perform pelvic exams without consent?

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2020 | Medical And Professional Malpractice

Doctors have a legal and ethical responsibility to obtain your informed consent before performing a procedure or certain medical exams. This is especially important if the examination involves probing your genitalia. Performing such an examination when you did not give express consent, did not know what would happen beforehand and/or were unable to give consent at the time the examination took place may meet the definition of sexual assault. 

However, according to Healthline, in many states, it is not only legal to perform a pelvic exam on an anesthetized or sedated woman without her consent, but it is also an accepted practice. Medical students frequently receive instruction to perform pelvic exams on anesthetized patients. The purpose is to teach them how to perform the procedure. Many times, however, the medical students involved do not know whether or not the patients have knowledge of the plan to perform the examination, let alone have given consent. 

Questionable consent 

When challenged about this disturbing practice, doctors and hospitals frequently cite paperwork that patients sign agreeing to the involvement of medical students in their care. However, these agreements are frequently poorly worded and make no explicit mention of pelvic examinations. Doctors and hospitals also point out that in many cases patients have already consented to an invasive surgical procedure. However, a surgical procedure is not the same as a pelvic exam, and consenting to one does not automatically imply acquiescence to the other. 

Further justification 

Doctors and hospitals further rationalize the unconsented examination of patients’ genitalia by pointing out that the patient is unconscious when it happens and thus has no memory of it. In many cases, this is true. However, there have been instances in which patients have come back to consciousness while the examination is taking place. They report feeling traumatized and violated by the experience. 

The practice of performing unconsented pelvic exams is now illegal in eight states. Ohio is not one of them.