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Lawmakers, medical students continue to advocate for bills banning non-consensual pelvic exams

1 Missouri bill gaining momentum
pelvic exam without consent
Posted at 4:58 PM, Apr 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-10 19:34:35-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last October, the KSHB 41 News I-Team did a two-part story about a controversial medical practice that a lot of people don't know about — pelvic exams on anesthetized patients without their explicit consent all for the purpose of educating medical students.

The issue is two-pronged. First, advocates don't want doctors doing these exams on patients without asking them first, unless it's a urgent medical emergency.

Second, advocates don't want medical students essentially practicing on unconscious patients without the patient knowing and consenting first.

In recent years, bills in Kansas and Missouri that would ban this practice and require informed, explicit consent went nowhere.

In December, we updated you about what lawmakers planned to do in the 2023 legislative session.

This year, we're seeing some movement.

"I'm thrilled the Senate passed out my Senate Bill 106 which bans pelvic, anal, and prostate exams on anesthetized and unconscious patients," Democratic Missouri Sen. Lauren Arthur said. "It received unanimous support, which if you know anything about the Missouri senate, doesn't happen very often."

Arthur's bill is now headed to the House, where it'll be handled by Republican Rep. Hannah Kelly, who filed a sister bill in the House, and who also got unanimous support.

"Really, it's just a matter of which one gets to the governor's desk first," Arthur said.

Arthur is optimistic that at least one of them will.

The next hearing for Arthur's bill is in the House on Tuesday, April 12.

Last year and this year, however, she was met with some push-back from some in the medical community who insist this isn't happening or are concerned lawmakers are telling doctors how to do their jobs.

"So based on that, we said that it can't hurt to make sure this is in our state law," Arthur said. "And they've been willing to work with us on the language, and I think they agree patients should be able to have specific, informed consent under these circumstances."

Over in Kansas, Democratic Rep. Rui Xu says like last year, his bill never got a hearing and it's too late in the session to get one. He'll have to bring it back up next year.

"I’m disappointed we weren’t able to take action on it this year, but I’m hopeful that next year we can at least hold hearings so we can debate the merits of the policy in public," Xu said in a statement to KSHB 41 News.

Overall, it's not just lawmakers speaking out against non-consensual pelvic exams.

"I'm not out in the field so I've never been in this position myself, but I hope people start to realize this type of procedure isn't OK, and maybe it's something that has been ingrained through practice so people might not be consciously thinking about it," Ashley Glass said, a second-year medical student at Kansas City University.

Glass and two of her colleagues at KCU are trying to get the Missouri State Medical Association (MSMA) to adopt a resolution against non-consensual pelvic exams.

The students drafted the resolution and had the opportunity to testify on it at the 2023 MSMA convention, which took place in Kansas City the first weekend of April.

They're in their first and second years and haven't started rotations yet, but feel passionate about this issue.

"Especially for vulnerable communities, we're still trying to rebuild trust with a lot of marginalized communities and the history of medicine and people being mistreated," Charlie Adams, second year medical student, said. "Sensitive exams are something we really need to make sure we're doing perfectly."

The MSMA hasn't adopted the resolution yet, telling the students they need more time to discuss it.

"Some physicians were concerned it would limit any type of emergency care they'd provide to patients, that's not the intent at all," Bethany Baumgartner, first year medical student, said. "This is a safeguard for patients but also for medical students. We don't want medical students to perform these types of exams on patients without their consent."

In the meantime, Arthur says the number of emails from patients, doctors, and medical students speaking out continue to grow, which strengthens her resolve get her bill over the finish line.

"It will be so rewarding to know that we really made a difference and we helped protect the people we are elected to serve," Arthur said.