Assemblyman Moriarty Introduces Legislation To Stop Students From Performing Pelvic Exams On Unconscious Patients Without Consent

New Jersey Legislators are concerned about a controversial practice in teaching hospitals throughout the country. During medical school, students may be instructed to perform pelvic-exams on unconscious patients, at times without permission. After being alerted to this practice, Assemblyman Moriarty introduced Assembly Bill 5582 to ban it in New Jersey hospitals.

According to a Wiley Bioethics Journal article by Phoebe Friesen, students perform many of these pelvic examinations during completely unrelated procedures such as stomach surgery. The principal goal of such exams is to further medical students’ education and not to provide care for the patient.

While it is unclear how widespread the practice is, due to a lack of studies, a 2005 survey at the University of Oklahoma found that a large majority of students gave pelvic-exams to unconscious patients, nearly three-quarters of whom had done so without consent. In addition to pelvic-exams, teaching hospitals may also be instructing medical students to perform prostate-exams and various other less invasive examinations on unconscious patients.

Although Harvard and various other top teaching hospitals have reportedly stopped the practice, it remains legal in forty-two states, including New Jersey. In other words, throughout most of the country, patients could be unknowingly examined by medical students during unrelated procedures.

The Assemblyman’s bill would require that a patient must verbally and in writing consent to be examined for educational purposes. Additionally, all other examinations must be consented to in writing before being performed. The bill would allow for examinations without prior consent in the event of an emergency.

The bill is currently in the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, following approval, the bill would move to the General Assembly for a vote.

Throughout Assemblyman Moriarty’s tenure in the General Assembly, he has fought for a health care system that serves patients first. This legislation joins his past efforts to regulate prescription drug prices and prevent conflicts of interests on hospital boards in New Jersey.