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Secret pelvic exams or unfounded fears?

Jan 13, 2020

BY: Citizens Count

Sen. Jeb Bradley is sponsoring SB 467, a 2020 bill that would require informed consent from a patient before a health care provider or student performs a pelvic examination when a woman is unconscious.  There are exceptions if the exam is required for diagnosis.

Bradley sponsored a similar bill last year, SB 117.  Rep. Peter Torosian also sponsored a similar bill in the House, HB 422.  Neither bill passed. 

These bills follow reports from other states of medical students performing pelvic exams on unknowing women who are under anesthesia for unrelated reasons. 

Not a problem in NH? 

In 2019 Matthew Houdethe Vice President of Government Relations at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, testified that Dartmouth-Hitchcock already gets informed consent from patients before teaching pelvic exams, making this bill unnecessary. 

The New Hampshire Hospital Association submitted written testimony that similarly argued the bill was not based on any experience in New Hampshire.  The association also argued the law would interfere in the physician/patient relationship.   

Or just an unknown problem? 

Critics argue that if a pelvic exam occurs when a patient is unconscious, there’s no way for the patient to know the exam occurredand therefore it is very difficult to know if patients were fully briefed on what happened. 

In one notable case in Utah, a woman who went to the emergency room for uncontrollable vomiting woke up from a sedative to find her feet in stirrups and a doctor mid-exam.  As a survivor of child sexual abuse, the experience was particularly traumatizing for the woman. 

Supporters of a law requiring informed consent argue that it is a very reasonable legal protection for Granite State women.  Other states have passed similar laws. 

SB 467 had a public hearing today, January 14.  The Senate will most likely vote on the bill later this winter.  

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