Fiedler bill to require patient consent for pelvic exams passes Health Committee

HARRISBURG, March 29 – Today, a bill introduced by state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., and Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, to require patient consent for pelvic exams passed in the Health Committee.

Right now, medical students can perform a pelvic exam on a female patient who is under anesthesia for an unrelated procedure. The pelvic exam is done solely for medical students’ training purposes and not to ensure the health of the patient. The patient often has not given explicit consent and is entirely unaware of what is being done to her body while under anesthesia.

This bill, H.B. 507, will now head to the house floor for a vote.

Fiedler first learned about the practice from a constituent who believed a practice pelvic exam might have been conducted on her while she was under anesthesia. Fiedler shared how her constituent’s experience inspired her to learn more about this practice and ultimately introduce this bill.

“A couple of years ago, a resident of my district came to me concerned about what happened to her while she was a patient for a medical procedure, under anesthesia,” Fiedler said. “She worried that while she was unconscious, her body had been used for a practice pelvic exam. A year later she still didn't have answers, despite asking her doctor directly.

“The more I researched the situation, the more horrified I was. I learned that, in our commonwealth, medical students can legally perform a pelvic or rectal exam on a patient who is under anesthesia. The patient often is entirely unaware of what is being done to their body— of the violation of their body. In these cases, the pelvic or rectal exam is done not for the patient’s health, but for the medical student’s training purposes. Making sure we have highly trained medical professionals is incredibly important, and at the same time, patients should be asked for their consent ahead of time.”

Hanbidge believes this bill being voted out of the Health Committee is an essential step forward in ending what she called an “archaic and unacceptable” practice.

“Making informed, consensual medical decisions in consultation with your physician is a fundamental aspect of good healthcare,” Hanbidge said. “The fact that it has become commonplace for pelvic exams to be conducted for the purpose of training medical personnel without the patients’ consent, while patients are under anesthesia, is archaic and unacceptable. The Pennsylvania House Health Committee took an essential step forward in ending this practice today by passing a bill that would require medical schools, teaching hospitals, and medical institutions to obtain explicit patient consent to perform all such procedures and exams while a patient is under anesthesia. This bill protects patients’ rights and ensures patients have a full and complete understanding of what procedures and exams will take place while they are under anesthesia. I applaud the esteemed members of the Health Committee for advancing this legislation and look forward to seeing this bill come to the House floor for a vote.”

Amal Bass, interim executive co-director of Women's Law Project, expressed the organization’s support of this bill.

“Women’s Law Project strongly supports House Bill 507,” Bass said. “It is past time to eliminate the heinous practice of nonconsensual pelvic, rectal, and prostate exams in Pennsylvania. It perpetuates the long, shameful legacy of sexist and racist abuse in the name of medical progress. Our bodies are not public property. We are not living test dummies to be experimented with and practiced upon.”

Bass said the organization is grateful to the lawmakers for protecting both patients and medical students by championing this legislation. She urged the General Assembly to pass H.B. 507 into law.

Video is available here:  Fiedler: Protecting Patients Rights