Report: Medical Students Perform Intrusive Exams on Unconscious Patients

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According to a disturbing report in Australia’s Madison magazine, medical students are performing breast, rectal and genital exams on unconscious patients without their consent.

The magazine cites a new study to be published in the journal Medical Education, which surveyed 200 students from three medical schools in Australia and the U.K. Among respondents who had been ordered by superiors to perform intrusive exams on patients who hadn’t given express permission, 82% said they had obeyed. Among patients receiving unauthorized exams, nearly half were medicated or unconscious, and the rest were conscious. Madison reports:

“I was in theatre, the patient was under a spinal [anaesthetic] as well and there was a screen up and they just had a queue of medical students doing a rectal examination,” a student confessed. “[H]e wasn’t consented but because. . .you’re in that situation, you don’t have the confidence to say ‘no’ you just do it.” [sic]

Astonishingly, another student admitted to having “no qualms” about giving a female patient an anal examination without her consent because they [sic] didn’t consider her permission relevant.

“We think that it is weakness in the ethical climate of the clinical workplace that ultimately serves to legitimize and reinforce unethical practices in the context of students learning intimate examinations,” lead author, Professor Charlotte Rees of the Centre for Medical Education at the University of Dundee in Scotland, wrote, according to Madison.

For any American medical student who’s fuzzy about the rules of his or her involvement in patient care, the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics lays it out:

In instances where the patient will be temporarily incapacitated (e.g., anesthetized) and where student involvement is anticipated, involvement should be discussed before the procedure is undertaken whenever possible.

Read the full Madison story here.