Hospitals Will Stop Pelvic Exams of Unconscious Women Without Their Consent

The bizarre thing about ethics in medicine is how doctors and others will turn themselves inside out over some grey area, but then turn around and make what are obviously unethical decisions in relatively routine areas.

This sort of myopia is what is behind one of the more bizarre news stories I’ve read in awhile — several top medical schools have decided to stop conducting unauthorized pelvic exams on unconscious women.

According to a story by the Associated PRess’ David B. Caruso,

Breaking with tradition, the schools have instructed doctors to ask patients for permission before allowing students to examine them [female patients] while they are unconscious.

Previously, each had routinely brought in students — sometimes as many as three or four — to conduct pelvic exams on women undergoing gynecological surgeries, usually without their knowledge.

So the very schools that are training up-and-coming doctors for years routinely violated the rights of their female patients by neither informing them nor obtaining their consent for an exam that did not directly benefit the patient.

Dr. Michael Gregory, a Boston physician, says he objected to this procedure when he was a medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine. Gregory notes that in studies most women say that would consent to such examinations but that doctors still are afraid to ask,

It’s this paternalistic, patronizing view that doctors know best . . . We underestimate people’s incredible charity, and their willingness to let us train. But I think that at a gut level, doctors understand that if they actually told patients that this was happening without their consent, people would be outraged.


Hospitals alter pelvic exam policies. David Caruso, Associated Press, March 11, 2003.

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