Medical students in Colorado must obtain patient consent for pelvic exams
Colorado’s acting governor, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, signed off on a law that places Colorado far above other states when it comes to consent laws, including the 20 states that have these laws. The law requires medical students to acquire informed consent from patients prior to conducting a pelvic, prostate, or rectal exams while the patient is sedated.
Originally, once in the hospital, patients sign medical forms that give loose consent for procedures that might be performed or necessary while the patients are sedated. That consent covers medical students as well. Unfortunately, waking up to find you have had a non-consensual pelvic exam can be horrifying and traumatic, especially for patients who have suffered sexual assault and abuse. An unconsented exam like that can dredge up painful memories, especially if the patient was not well-informed of what procedures might be performed while under sedation. The consent law is aimed at preventing such occurrences.
The role of this law will be to ensure that patients understand the procedures that could be performed while they are sedated before they sign a consent form. The form will also include the name of any students who might perform the procedure. The students will also be required to contact the patients while obtaining consent for the procedure.
That said, the law includes provisions for licensed medical practitioners to perform the exam in emergency situations where it is impossible to get consent beforehand. Additionally, the law provides whistleblower protections for hospitals, doctors, and medical students who could face liability for violating the consent law after reporting case where it was violated.
Kayte Spector-Bagday, a clinical ethicist, argued that the law could limit learning opportunities for medical students if they have to be scheduled beforehand for the procedure. In the fast-paced and ever-changing hospital environment, the student allowed to perform the procedure might be missing at the time. With the law in place, students not on the form wouldn’t get to perform the procedure and they’d be missing out on valuable learning opportunities that could help in shaping them into doctors who are proficient in treating women. Other critics of the law across the U.S. argue that it is an example of the government unnecessarily getting in the way of patient care. Instead, they support the guidance coming from medical associations.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Newman, the public policy director at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault is backing the law and argues in support of naming students in the consent form and requiring that they meet the patients. In so doing, the medical students would learn the vital components of complete and informed consent and the rules that govern the process. Informed consent is a necessary step in patient interactions and is often a reason why practitioners face litigation. Newman also points out that proponents hope other states will see Colorado as a model and pass similar consent laws to protect patients. The Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified in favor of the bill.