Queens senator’s bill to eliminate pelvic examinations on unconscious patients passes the state Senate

Max Parrott/QNS

The state Senate passed Senator Jessica Ramos’ bill to stop the non-consensual pelvic examinations on unconscious patients in New York on Monday, culminating a push against the common practice in the medical community and activist circles.

Ramos’ bill will stop medical students from being routinely instructed to practice pelvic examinations on unconscious and anesthetized patients, many of whom are unaware that this practice is happening. The law will require informed consent from patients about any training exercises performed on their bodies.

“When New Yorkers are in the care of a doctor, they must be aware of all procedures they will undergo,” said Ramos in a statement.

The rationale of Ramos’s version of the bill focuses on instilling medical students entering the field of gynecology with the importance of asking consent for medical procedures.

It references an article published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that indicated while the majority of first-year medical students were at first disturbed about performing pelvic exams on unconscious women without consent, their concerns diminished by the time they graduated. The law claims this “ethical erosion” could have implications for how a physician would treat patients down the road.

New York will be the sixth state in the nation to ban the practice. It’s not clear exactly how many teaching hospitals in the city perform this practice, but it is common nationally. The bill comes after a renewed wave of public discourse on the practice over the past several years, but the practice has been a subject of contention since the 1990s.

The debate has gone beyond its ethical questions. The medical community has even questioned whether the pelvic exam is an important skill to teach medical students.

Ramos’ bill does not enter into the debate of the procedure’s medical value, instead establishing informed consent as a baseline for all procedures. The American Medical Association defines informed consent as a situation where a patient authorizes any specific medical intervention prior to treatment.

“Informed consent must be given by the patient for all procedures, even if just for training purposes. It is of utmost importance to instill the value of informed consent on medical students in New York,” said Ramos.

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