Invasive Pelvic Exams Under Anesthesia May Result in Med Mal February 4, 2010.

Undergoing an invasive pelvic exam while you are under anesthesia may be cause for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In a world full of unspeakable things, where one should feel safe in a hospital while in the hands of good doctors, comes the latest highly unsettling news; pelvic exams performed on women without their consent while they are under anesthesia. If this doesn’t make you cringe and wonder what the devil those doctors think they are doing, nothing will. In most instances when this kind of violation occurs, it has been done by medical students.

How can they do this without the patient’s consent? This is the $64 million dollar question with seemingly no really good answer and a serious violation, but it’s being done in the US and in Canada. This very personal and very private routine exam normally done in a doctor’s office or at the behest of a gynecologist is being done whenever and wherever possible in hospitals to unconscious patients.

Is this kind of activity just the tip of the iceberg and are there other nasty little secrets being withheld from patients? Yet another very pointed question that no one seems to be in a hurry to answer. This ‘secret’ was first outted by a Canadian doctor, Dr. Sara Weinberg, whose brother called her for advice as a result of his rotation on the obstetrics and gynecology service.

Dr. Weinberg’s brother had been asked to do a pelvic exam on a woman under anesthetic. He would not do it as he felt that doing it without informed consent would be unethical. Startled to realize she had done the same thing in training, she asked others about their experiences. It seems that close to 72% had done exams on unconscious patients. The prevailing argument for doing this was because it offered the medical students a unique opportunity to practice this very private exam without causing pain or embarrassment.

For some reason many doctors are of the opinion that patients don’t want students performing this type of exam. That may well be the case, but it doesn’t make it acceptable to turn around and have it done to someone who is out like a light and totally vulnerable. Sneaking around to do this kind of exam without permission hits a new level of low behavior in the medical field.

While some may be thinking the woman knew about this exam prior to surgery and anesthesia, the study Dr. Weinberg conducted discovered that perhaps one in five may be aware this type of exam would be performed on them while unconscious. Whether or not there are patients who may agree to this type of an exam under these circumstances is not the point. The point is it isn’t ethical to do it without permission, and this doesn’t even begin to address the possibilities of injuries to the cervix at the hands of some of the clumsier students; the risk of infection or the possibility of internal injuries due to the slip of an instrument. Good medicine means informed consent and patients being treated with respect and dignity. An invasive non-consensual pelvic exam done under anesthesia is not treating the patient with respect and dignity.