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The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently passed a law requiring informed consent before conducting pelvic exams on patients under anesthesia. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Pennsylvania doctors are now required to obtain informed consent for medical students to perform pelvic, rectal, or prostate exams on patients under anesthesia.

Pennsylvania joins 20 other states that require written and verbal consent for pelvic exams. Gov. Josh Shapiro signed the bill on Nov. 21, which will come into effect 60 days later on Jan. 19. 

The bill is intended to build trust between patients and doctors and protect patients, especially unconscious women, who are historically affected by the practice of pelvic exams. 

“It’s what I consider a ‘Duh’ piece of legislation, where people are like, ‘How is this not already in law?’” Rep. Liz Hanbrige (D-Montgomery) said to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Philadelphia), who co-authored the bill with Hanbidge, started working on the legislation after Keren Sofer, a South Philadelphia resident, told Fielder that she was examined without her consent while under anesthesia.

“It was just shocking to me that this was something that was allowed to happen, and that there were not clear, bright lines about what a medical student could or should do to the physical body while they were under anesthesia," Fiedler told the Inquirer.

In a pelvic exam, the doctor uses their fingers to check areas such as the cervix and uterus. After the doctor has already conducted the proper examinations, medical students will repeat the procedure to the patient as a learning opportunity. 92% of medical students from seven top medical schools performed pelvic exams on an anesthetized female patient, and 61% of those students did not receive consent to do so. 

While the University's Perelman School of Medicine and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University required written consent for medical students to conduct pelvic exams, there was no statewide policy until now. 

The bill will now require all Pennsylvania healthcare providers to receive consent for pelvic, rectal, or prostate exams, or they will be fined $1,000. If a medical student conducts the exam without consent, the healthcare provider will be held liable.