Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pelvic exams without consent?

According to the Globe and Mail, pelvic exams are being performed by med students at teaching hospitals on women undergoing surgery without their consent. I am in shock that this could possibly be true.

The article asks "Do you consider this okay, or an outrageous violation of your rights?"

I wonder how anyone could consider this ok... as much as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that side of this debate. What is the difference between med students performing exams on women without their knowledge and a rapist taking advantage of a woman who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

The article also says that "The patients – unlike medical educators – seem to be quite clear on the concept of informed consent. You don't probe, poke or otherwise invade the orifices of a patient without their permission, regardless of how educational it might be. Period."

Interestingly, it seems as though in Canada (but not in the United States or Britain) the consent forms that patients need to sign somehow cover this type of procedure- possibly not in so many words. One commenter pointed out that without signing this consent form, the patient would not be operated on at all, thereby bullying women into signing without telling them what it is they are agreeing to.

One blogger used twitter to ask her followers if they had surgery in Canada and if they were aware of whether or not they had been given a pelvic exam and comments have come back show that this is not just a matter of implicit consent. The women who are responding are not ok with this procedure. They are shocked and sick to their stomach, they feel violated, and they are referring to this as assault, not a simple medical practice.

I really hope information comes out showing that this was just some kind of sensationalized story and really not a common practice, but, even if it is done in only one hospital, it needs to stop. Consent should not be implicit. This is evident in the new direction feminist analysis of consent has taken from 'no means no' to 'yes means yes.' The lack of objection is not the same as consent, especially when the person is unconscious. This applies not just to pelvic exams, but to any medical procedures that have not been fully explained to the patient unless it is medically necessary.

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