Medical Students Need Consent for 'Intimate' Exams

Failure is a violation of basic human rights

FRIDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- Asking medical students to perform "intimate" examinations on anesthetized patients without their informed consent is a violation of basic human rights, according to an editorial in the July issue of Student BMJ.

Ohad Oren, a third-year medical student, and Gershon B. Grunfeld, Ph.D., a lecturer in medical ethics and law from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, write that a group of Israeli medical students refused to perform pelvic exams on anesthetized female patients without their informed consent earlier this year.

Some gynecologists argue that pelvic exams are routine practice, or that patients seen in a teaching hospital already understand that medical students will be involved in their care, and therefore informed consent is unnecessary. However, the authors note that a basic tenet of medical ethics is a respect for patient autonomy, which is behind the principle of informed consent. They argue that performing an intimate exam on a patient without the patient's explicit consent is a gross violation of the patient's autonomy and shows a lack of respect.

In a related news article in the same issue, Daniel Stott, a third-year medical student at St. George's Medical School in London, United Kingdom, describes the use of chaperones during "intimate" examinations. "Given that the boundaries between doctors and patients may be less obviously maintained than previously…and that the prospect of litigation is real and relevant, it seems sensible to take steps such as chaperoning to avoid misunderstandings," Stott concludes.

Full Text - Oren and Grunfeld
Full Text - Stott

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