Pelvic Exams Done on Anesthetized Women Without Consent: Still Happening

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


May 02, 2018

In This Article

Get Prior Consent or Hire Patients

Obviously, those still teaching and learning pelvic exams on nonconsenting women are not doing so for sexual gratification. But unconsented touching is still both a violation of a person's dignity and a terrible way to teach students to respect their patients.

A casual poll undertaken by a Canadian medical student of her acquaintances in the profession revealed that 72% of the doctors and medical students she asked had done medical exams on unconscious patients without consent. That is 72% too many.

The most straightforward way to involve patients in teaching is to ask them. Getting consent ahead of time is the ethical way to proceed.

If that does not produce sufficient numbers of teaching subjects, then it is time to move on to using hired patients for these exams. Many schools do, and some women find it rewarding both to be paid and to help students learn how to do pelvic exams properly.

There is no excuse or rationale for touching a woman or a man without their permission, even if it is for a good purpose, such as learning to do physical examinations. Consent from the patient is not a negotiable requirement. The mutual respect that doctor and patient ought to have for one another is affirmed when the doctor asks whether the patient is comfortable being involved in teaching the next generation of doctors.


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