A bill to ban non-consensual pelvic exams on unconscious or anesthetized patients will be introduced by Representative Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, when the Legislature resumes in January.
On October 23, LR 2696 was approved unanimously by the bipartisan Legislative Council, according to Doudera.
“When I learned of the possibility of health professionals performing non-consensual pelvic exams on unconscious patients as a teaching exercise for medical students, everything in me said that was wrong,” she said, in late October. “I think anyone who puts themselves in the position of a woman waking up to this scenario (which does occur, although the frequency is unclear) or learning of the exam after the fact, would feel it was a violation.”
The bill is to provide protection and peace of mind for both patients and practitioners, and is of an emergency nature, she said.
“Informed consent is a basic human right, and performing pelvic exams on women who are under anesthetic and have not consented is a violation of autonomy and trust,” said Doudera.
She noted that the practice, once commonly used to teach students standard procedures, has been denounced by the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Association of American Medical Colleges, and that it can be especially traumatic for victims of domestic violence.
“While I believe that our state’s teaching hospital, Maine Medical Center, has informed consent as a best practice, this needs to be made explicit in state law as soon as possible, so that women undergoing surgery are protected, and medical students asked to perform the procedure know they are acting ethically,” said Doudera.
Doudera wants to ensure that patients have control over what happens to their own bodies.
“The #metoo movement has made us more aware of situations when this isn't happening, such as pelvic exams performed without consent,” she said. “Many states, including several in New England, are seeing legislation aimed at preventing this, and it is spurring an important conversation around informed consent. I believe that Maine people need protections in place as well, both for patients as well as medical students.”
Of the 397 bill requests screened by the Council, only 134 were approved to continue forward, as the Maine Constitution limits the scope of bills heard in the second regular session, she said.
Doudera said the AMA has called the non-consensual pelvic exams “a lingering stain on the history of medical education,” and that she was looking forward to conversation around the importance of informed consent.
“The extent to which the practice continues is unclear, but what’s obvious to me is that it needs to be prohibited, except in emergency situations.”
Vicki Doudera represents District 94, which comprises Camden, Islesboro, and Rockport. She can be reached at Victoria.Doudera@legislature.maine.gov