HARRISBURG, Pa.— A new Pennsylvania law will require doctors to get a patient’s verbal and written consent before medical students can perform pelvic or rectal exams on someone who receives anesthesia.

At a press conference Monday, supporters touted the recently enacted legislation, which goes into effect in January.

Tracking how often medical students are asked to perform pelvic, rectal or prostate exams on anesthetized patients is difficult, but concern about the procedures has led to a broad national effort to require informed consent for the procedures. At least 20 states have similar measures, with Colorado advancing some of the most extensive legislation so far.

Often, patient paperwork contains broad consent for a range of procedures that might be medically necessary while someone is anesthetized. But the documents can also include consent for educational purposes, allowing students to conduct medically unnecessary exams as part of their training.

Some doctors have called the legislative effort governmental overreach that will diminish trust. Supporters say the laws increase transparency and protect medical students from being made to conduct exams without informed consent.

“If a coherent person declines a pelvic, prostate or rectal exam, one would not be performed. Their response would not be open to interpretation,” said Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, a primary sponsor of the Pennsylvania legislation. “Unconscious persons should never be viewed as merely an object for learning.”

South Philadelphia resident Keren Sofer approached her legislator in 2019 after she believed an exam was performed on her without consent.

“Every single person, every time I shared my experience, were shocked because they too thought that being treated with dignity, respect and transparency in a medical facility — and especially when under anesthesia — was a given,” she said Monday.

The law will impose at least a $1,000 penalty for violations by health care providers. If a student in a training program conducts an exam without consent, the health care provider will be held liable, according to the legislation.


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