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Conversation surrounding non-consensual pelvic exams continues in Kansas City

UMKC hosts documentary screening and panel discussion
pelvic exam documentary screening
Posted at 3:00 PM, Apr 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-14 19:19:50-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over the last year, The KSHB 41 News I-Team has helped shine a light on a medical practice that many may not know about: pelvic exams on anesthetized patients without their consent, oftentimes solely for a medical student's education.

Part 1: Pelvic exams under anesthesia still happen without patient knowledge
Part 2: What local lawmakers are doing about pelvic exams without consent

This conversation brought up important themes of consent and the power hierarchy in medicine.

The community continued that conversation recently at a documentary screening at University of Missouri - Kansas City.

Pelvic exams on patients under anesthesia without their consent is an experience few people actually remember and find out about.

However, the I-Team found out that medical students perform these unauthorized exams in teaching hospitals around the country, and ethical lines blur.

"And I know that I didn’t consent, and I know we didn’t talk about it because I woke up in the middle of the exam screaming," Ashley Weitz told KSHB 41 in our first story in October.

This practice is legal in Kansas and Missouri, meaning a patient has no real recourse if they find out it happened to them.

The knowledge that it happened can feel like an assault, which is how Weitz described it.

The documentary, At Your Cervix, gathered many similar stories going back almost 20 years and dives into the dark history of obstetrics and gynecology.

UMKC held a screening Wednesday night and after, the audience engaged with local advocates and the filmmaker in a panel discussion.

"It's very clear to most of us that this is assault but if you talk to folks in medicine, they don't see it the same way," A'magine Goddard, who directed and produced At Your Cervix, said.

The conversation centered around the importance of doctors and medical students getting the patient's consent before having anyone do a pelvic exam on them while they're under.

"Most patients will say yes if they have a good relationship and trust with you, and I think that's what medical education needs to focus on, developing that relationship and collaboration and not that power hierarchy that we have to constantly topple," Dr. Devika Maulik, a local OBGYN, said.

Maulik said, fortunately, she was never put into a position where she didn't have a patient's consent in medical school.

That was in 2005 when she was in California and the state had just passed legislation against unauthorized pelvic exams.

However, it can still happen.

"My last exam I had a doctor who did something to me without my consent. And it floored me," Justice Gatson, doula and social justice advocate, said. "I was so angry and I'm thinking to myself, I have language to come back at her, I have these things to say. What about the person who doesn't?"

The conversation also focused on state legislation in Kansas in Missouri that would ban unauthorized pelvic exams. As we reported just recently, the Missouri bills have bipartisan support and a bill in Kansas died in committee.

The advocates say legislation is important to remind people they have a say in their own care and to make sure respect is at the forefront of every doctor's visit.

"Truth telling, integrity, honesty - you have to do all those things and you have to understand humility is a very, very important part medical education, especially when a mistake is made at the cost of a patient's autonomy," Maulik said.