Ethics versus education: pelvic exams on anesthetized women

J Okla State Med Assoc. 2005 Aug;98(8):386-8.


In a survey of junior and senior medical students at the University of Oklahoma, a large majority of respondents reported having performed pelvic exams on anesthetized gynecologic surgery patients. Nearly three-quarters also reported believing that these patients had not specifically consented to undergo exams by students during their surgical procedures. While some students and medical educators maintain that pelvic exams under anesthesia are necessary for the development of students' examination skills, this assertion has not gone unquestioned. Serious ethical concerns have been raised by members of the medical community and women's advocacy groups, and the practice was recently outlawed in one state. Despite this widespread opposition, non-consented pelvic examinations evidently remain a common practice in US teaching hospitals. Our consideration of this controversial issue leads us to conclude that explicit, informed consent must be obtained in order for pelvic examinations to be performed on surgical patients, or risk compromising the doctor-patient relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, General*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / ethics*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods
  • Female
  • Gynecologic Surgical Procedures
  • Gynecology / education*
  • Gynecology / ethics
  • Hospitals, Teaching / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics*
  • Informed Consent / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Oklahoma
  • Organizational Policy
  • Perioperative Care / ethics*
  • Physical Examination / ethics*
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Vagina