If you’re a TikTok user, you may have seen this alarming TikTok from user paimonsays, discussing unauthorized pelvic exams and her experience with one.
Paimonsays posted the video on January 28 and has already accumulated over 7 million views and 1 million likes. In it, they post the following text, while playing an eerie song, fitting for the horror of the experience they share:
“While you were under anesthesia we brought some students in to do a pelvic exam, don’t worry it was just so they could learn.”
The implication in this video is that while under general anesthesia, Paimonsays’ doctor brought an unspecified number of medical students into the room and performed a pelvic exam without their consent.
The video sparked heated discussion online about pelvic exams under anesthesia – and a shocking number of people came forward to discuss their pelvic exam horror stories. It became apparent quickly that an unfathomable number of women have experiences with this egregious breach of patient consent.
What is a Pelvic Exam Under Anesthesia?
Pelvic exams can be a legitimate practice for female healthcare, and they can be used to diagnose and treat a variety of gynecological conditions.
A pelvic exam involves the insertion of a speculum into the vagina, allowing healthcare providers while wearing gloves to examine the cervix, uterus, and ovaries.
While pelvic exams can be uncomfortable, they should be performed only after the patient’s informed consent and full awareness.
Pelvic exams can also be performed under general anesthesia, though this is less common. In order to gain consent for this procedure, doctors discuss this with a patient beforehand. This is just like any other procedure that is performed under anesthesia – the patient understands what will be done to them while they are unconscious before they are given anesthesia. Then they are put under, and the doctor, or doctors, perform said procedure.
However, in some cases, pelvic exams are performed on unconscious or anesthetized patients without their knowledge or consent, or the healthcare provider does not wear gloves.
Are Non Consensual Pelvic Exams Legal?
In the public discourse on this topic, there’s also been a lot of discussion about the legality of this practice from state to state.
The map seen below has been shared across social media, detailing the legality of this practice from state to state.
This image was originally created by the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program, and can be found on their website here.
This map is alarming – according to it, and subsequently to the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program, 21 states do not have laws or explicit bans on the practice of performing pelvic exams under anesthesia without consent from the patient.
In the discourse surrounding this topic, many are (rightfully) outraged by the fact that nearly half of the US does not make the practice of unauthorized pelvic exams illegal.
But that is only partly true.
As stated in the National Library of Medicine:
“Informed consent is the process in which a health care provider educates a patient about the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a given procedure or intervention. The patient must be competent to make a voluntary decision about whether to undergo the procedure or intervention. Informed consent is both an ethical and legal obligation of medical practitioners in the US and originates from the patient’s right to direct what happens to their body. Implicit in providing informed consent is an assessment of the patient’s understanding, rendering an actual recommendation, and documentation of the process. The Joint Commission requires documentation of all the elements of informed consent “in a form, progress notes or elsewhere in the record.” The following are the required elements for documentation of the informed consent discussion: (1) the nature of the procedure, (2) the risks and benefits and the procedure, (3) reasonable alternatives, (4) risks and benefits of alternatives, and (5) assessment of the patient’s understanding of elements 1 through 4.
It is the obligation of the provider to make it clear that the patient is participating in the decision-making process and avoid making the patient feel forced to agree to with the provider. The provider must make a recommendation and provide their reasoning for said recommendation.”
This is a long-winded explanation, but it is long for a reason. This is a precise and comprehensive statement detailing the elements that must be present in order for a doctor to obtain consent from their patient to perform a procedure.
Unauthorized pelvic exams should not happen.
They are a violation of your bodily autonomy.
They are directly opposed to the accepted medical ethics of doing no harm.
We urge you, regardless of the state in which you reside, to take action if you were the recipient of an unauthorized pelvic exam that was performed on you..
We would also like to thank the bravery of TikTok users like Paimonsays for sharing their stories and bringing to light this egregious practice.