Still happening: Pelvic exams on anesthetized patients. Why?


The struggle over Florida’s law

The original Florida bill was drafted in 2019 by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat who is a victims’ rights advocate working with women who have undergone sexual trauma. In written comments for this article, she says not getting consent for pelvic exams is still going on.

“This disturbing practice is commonplace at medical schools and teaching hospitals across the country – including several Florida universities, based on accounts from current and former medical students and faculty,” Sen. Book stated. “At best, these exams have been wrongful learning experiences for medical students or at worst, the equivalent of a sexual assault.”

Dr. Ubel took exception to linking the teaching activities to sexual assault. “I understand why many women would be horrified by this practice, but it’s not as bad as it seems,” he said. “There is nothing sexual or prurient about these exams, and they are motivated purely by a desire to teach people to be better doctors. That said, patients have the right to say, ‘I don’t want it done to me.’ ”

In early 2020, Dr. Benrubi was part of a coalition of medical groups that was trying to influence Sen. Book’s bill as it went through the legislature. Sen. Book’s original bill was relatively mild, “but then, late in the process, it was changed into a more sweeping bill with some unclear language,” he said.

The final version was passed and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a conservative Republican, in June.

Dr. Benrubi said that a large number of state legislators, including Sen. Book, have been agreeable to fixing the bill. This was supposed to happen in a special session in the fall, but that never materialized, and so the fix will have to wait until the regular session in early 2021.

“The law should not apply to patients undergoing routine pelvic exams,” Dr. Benrubi said. “It should only apply to women patients under anesthesia.”

But while organized medicine wants to walk back the law, Dr. Book wants to expand it. “This upcoming session, I look forward to working with physicians to continue to hone this new law, and to work toward inclusion for males. Everyone has a right to consent.”

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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