Students Perform Pelvic Exams Without Consent

ByABC News via logo
June 10, 2003, 9:14 AM

W A S H I N G T O N, June 10 -- Some teaching hospitals have failed to end the controversial practice of allowing medical students to perform pelvic exams on unconscious patients without permission, says a new study.

Some 90 percent of medical students performed pelvic exams during their clerkship, yet it's unclear what percent of patients actually consent to such exams, found the research, published in the May issue of American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology .

Dr. Ari Silver-Isenstadt, co-author of the study, says for years students have been performing pelvic exams on patients who have not officially given consent.

"I did the study based on my own experiences in medical school when I was asked to participate in some of these educational experiences and I felt very uncomfortable," Silver-Isenstadt told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America."I wanted to use that discomfort and look at it in a little bit more scholarly way to understand what was happening," he said.

While some of the nation's leading medical schools have abandoned the little-known, decades-old practice over time, in part because of years of complaints from medical students, there is still no law against it.

ABCNEWS' Dr. Timothy Johnson says he is familiar with the practice from the time he spent in medical school, but he assumed that it was a practice of the past. "I thought it was no longer being done in the modern age when we are more sensitive," Johnson said.

"I was appalled to find out it was still being done," added Dr. Johnson. "Clearly it is necessary as a learning experience, but it should never be done without the patient's consent and understanding."

The practice is coming under government scrutiny. Today, the Federal Trade Commission will address the issue of informed consent during a hearing in Washington.

Old School Practice Changing at Some Hospitals

Silver-Isenstadt says consent should be made mandatory for pelvic exams. He and Johnson agree many patients are happy to help when asked, and that students' education would not be compromised by seeking mandatory consent in hospitals nation-wide.