No woman should have a pelvic exam done without explicit consent

Like many other Canadians who read this Globe and Mail article, I was horrified to find out that women who are unconscious due to surgery are routinely subjected to internal pelvic exams by medical students in Canadian teaching hospitals. I’ve heard of women volunteering to let medical students practice on them, but they were awake – and more importantly – gave informed consent to have the procedure done.

I understand that medical students need to practice on real people, living and dead to learn. But the cadavers gave their consent when they were alive. Why is it okay to practice on the living when they are unconscious for a completely different reason. They weren’t put under anesthesia to have the students practice invasive procedures on them – they were put under for surgery. And that is the only thing that should happen to them while they are unconscious – the procedure they came to the hospital for.

The worst thing is that many people who have heard about this have said that if they were asked, they would gladly consent to have a student practice on them. I’m sure I would be. When I gave birth to Flora, I didn’t have to go under general anesthesia but a resident did do my epidural. I was informed of this up front and I was okay with that, because doctors have to learn. When she had trouble with it, she got her supervising doctor to come in and together they got it in (after eight tries, but that was probably a combination of inexperience on the resident’s end and me having intense contractions the entire time).

I also don’t understand how practicing pelvic exams on an unconscious woman is effective training. There’s no resistance if there is pain or if it is done incorrectly. There is no interaction between the doctor and the patient. I would think that feedback from the patient would be far more valuable than a completely prone, if living body. To me, it would make more sense if a medical student did their first practices on a test dummy (whatever the medical equivalent of a RealDoll is) or cadaver (to make sure they don’t put the speculum in backwards or anything), then once they felt confident, move on to a living, *conscious* woman. I suppose I shouldn’t assume how medical students obtain their education as I’ve never been to medical school – my knowledge of medical training doesn’t extend much past Grey’s Anatomy (which I managed to keep to myself when I spoke to the various residents – I assumed that that would be incredibly insulting).

If this upsets you, be sure to read and comment on Dear Nether-Probers: We, The Undersigned, Say STOP IT at the Bad Moms Club. Be sure to read the other posts surrounding this subject as well. Some horrifying stuff. Contact your elected representatives. Let them know that this is not right and it needs to stop.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada
This work by Melissa Price-Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada.
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