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PA law will require consent before doing exams on anesthetized patients

A doctor in medical scrubs and gloves
Molly Riley
Under new rules passed by Pennsylvania's General Assembly and signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro, medical providers will have to get permission from patients before performing exams on unconscious patients.

In Pennsylvania, medical students can perform exams on unconscious patients without their permission, but that’s changing under legislation passed in the General Assembly in November.

Under the new rules, medical providers will have to get specific, written permission from patients before performing the exams.

Right now, that’s not the case. As part of their training, medical students in Pennsylvania can perform pelvic, prostate or rectal exams on anesthetized patients.

“Such an unauthorized invasion of bodily autonomy can be incredibly traumatizing for both patients and medical students,” said state Senator Maria Collett, one of the bill’s sponsors, who is also a nurse.

Collett said while it's critical for health care workers to learn how to give care on actual patients, not just in labs, patient consent is critical, too.

“But that training should never come at the expense of a patient's opportunity to provide consent to such treatment," Collett said.

The practice does not happen at all medical colleges in Pennsylvania. But now the state will joina growing number requiring patient consent ahead of medical exams on an unconscious patient.

The legislation was sent Thursday to Gov. Josh Shapiro, who signed it into law Tuesday. It will take effect in 60 days.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.