Bill aims to require hospitals to get consent before medical students can do pelvic exams on patients under anesthesia

Patient bed


MADISON, Wis. — An assembly bill at the state capitol seeks to require Wisconsin hospitals to have a policy to get “written and verbal informed consent” from a patient before a medical student can perform a pelvic exam on the patient while they’re under anesthesia or unconscious.

While having an ovarian cyst removed in 2009, Madison teacher, Sarah Wright, believes medical students were practicing pelvis exams on her while she was under anesthesia.

She brought the concern to Rep. Chris Taylor (D – Madison). Taylor found that it’s common practice to teach medical students to do pelvic exams on sedated women who are having another pelvic surgery.

“I talked to a lot of OB-GYNs, and really this has been a practice for decades. Nobody really wants to talk about it though, but it has been a practice in teaching medical students for a long time,” said Taylor.

While teaching hospitals do ask patient’s consent to include medical students, Taylor said it’s often a general consent.

“It can say something like. ‘There may be a medical student involved in your care,’ but it’s never explicitly communicated to women that they actually might be performing a pelvic exam for educational purposes,” said Taylor.

The bill, authored by Taylor, would require a patient’s explicit consent to a pelvic exam from a medical student.

There are currently 10 states who have passes similar bills to require consent. Most recently, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Utah passed bills in 2019.

“We’re not taking away the ability for people to learn how to be healthcare providers, what we’re doing is we’re empowering patients to be able to have and use their voices,” said Rep. Melissa Sargent (D- Madison), one of the 22 lawmakers supporting the bill.

The bill currently has 14 democratic supporters and 8 republican supporters.

“This is refreshing that we have a bipartisan group of people that are acknowledging bodily autonomy and the ability for people to stand up and know what’s happening to them, and making sure that we are holding people accountable if they do cross those lines,” said Sargent.

Taylor said the #MeToo movement and the focus on conversations about consent have empowered women to fight for the right to make decisions about their bodies.

“With the #MeToo movement and women speaking out and standing up for their own bodily autonomy and integrity, I think that maybe this doesn’t seem to be a big deal with practitioners, but for patients it’s a really big deal,” said Taylor.

Recently, UW Hospital created their own policy on consent. Dr. Laurel Rice, Chair of the UW Health Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, sent News 3 Now the following statement:

“We conducted an internal review of our process for obtaining informed consent for such exams. This led to the creation of a comprehensive policy with more specific language and a more inclusive definition of ‘sensitive exam’. We believe this policy addresses the needs of our patients, physicians and students. ”

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Health. Taylor and other supporters are hoping it gets a hearing.