New York may join the rush of states requiring explicit informed consent for patients undergoing medical exams. The new law aims to prevent medical students and residents from performing pelvic, rectal or prostate exams on patients while they are under anesthesia. Amazingly, these medical exams are routinely performed on men and women while they are under anesthesia. Given the sensitive and personal nature of these exams, medical students and residents have long learned the procedure by using unconscious and anesthetized patients.
“There’s a surprising disconnect between the culture of medicine, where intimate exams without explicit consent of the patient are considered a defensible, standard practice, and the rest of us, who are horrified that a trainee could be allowed to perform a pelvic or rectal exam without asking,” said Amy Paulin, New York Democrat who sponsored the bill. Teaching universities across the country oppose the stricter consent laws, saying that practicing on unconscious patients is necessary to teach medical students. The Association of American Medical Colleges has denounced pelvic exams without explicit consent as “unethical and unacceptable.” According to the newspaper, most – but not all – of the country’s medical schools agree with the association and have already implemented policies requiring explicit consent at their hospitals.
For a long time, patients implicitly allowed these invasive procedures when they signed their hospital paperwork. According to WGRZ, the consent form “definitely does not mention any specific thing a student might be doing. It’s fairly vague language.” If signed into law in New York, patients will now be required to explicitly allow these medical procedures. According to Gov. Cuomo’s office, that result seems likely.