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Bad Touch: Canadian Hospitals Use Stealth Pelvic Exams

By Sierra Black |

physician_auscultatingYesterday, Toronto’s Globe and Mail dropped a bomb on Canadian women: it’s standard practice in Canadian hospitals for women to be given unnecessary practice pelvic exams by medical students while they are unconcious under general anasthesia. Without their knowledge of consent.

Um…what? We have a place for people who like to probe women’s private bits without consent, and it’s not our teaching hospitals. It’s called prison.

In general I’d like the U.S. health care system to be more like Canada’s, but I was vastly relieved to note that U.S. and European hospitals explicitly forbid this practice.

“Medical students routinely practice doing internal pelvic examinations while surgery patients are unconscious, and without getting specific consent, at least in Canada,” the Globe and Mail’s

A recently published survey of patients at a Canadian gynecological clinic revealed that fewer than 1 in 5 were aware that a practice exam might be performed on their private parts by medical students while they were unconcious. Over 70 percent said they expected to be asked for consent before being subjected to a pelvic exam.

The Canadian medical establishment’s argument in favor of stealth pelvic exams is simple: medical students need to learn how to do a gynecological exam, and no one would agree to being a guinea pig for them to practice on.

The argument is wrong though. The same research that shows women don’t know about this practice also revealed that 62 percent of them would agree to the exams if asked. An additional 5 percent would agree only if it were a female medical student doing it. That’s lots of opportunities for informed, consensual practice exams.

If you’re outraged by this, you can sign Her Bad Mother’s open letter to the Canadian Medical Authorities. Let them know women deserve to be informed about who is doing what to their bodies.

Photo: Public Domain

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About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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10 thoughts on “Bad Touch: Canadian Hospitals Use Stealth Pelvic Exams

  1. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Could you imagine the outcry if they found that men were having their junk fondled while they were knocked out?

  2. Samsmomma says:

    Why not have the med students do exams on each other, that way they can learn compassion as doctors, too?

  3. Giant Panda says:

    This is not “pelvic exams without consent” it is rape. And it is outrageous.

  4. Maggie says:

    A friend of mine has a job as a trainer for pelvic exams in a US medical school. In a classroom setting she climbs into the stirrups and gives direction to first-time examiners. “That’s not my ovary, it’s probably a piece of stool; you want to move a little to the left.” and “Gently! You wouldn’t want someone poking your testicle that hard.” She also gives grades.

    Surely the Canadian hospital could find women who would be glad to assist in making sure that other women receive appropriately gentle and competent exams — if they asked.

    And what about the likelihood that some of these women are aware of what’s going on during the exam — won’t they feel violated, directly, and at the time? And what about the women who wake up afterward with unexpected discomfort in places that had nothing to do with the surgery? This situation as ‘lack of empathy’ and ‘lack of compassion’ and ‘sexist fail’ written all over it.

  5. [...] Bad Touch: Canadian Hospital Use Stealth Pelvic Exams: Yesterday, Toronto’s Globe and Mail dropped a bomb on Canadian women: it’s standard practice in Canadian hospitals for women to be given unnecessary practice pelvic exams by medical students while they are unconcious under general anasthesia. Without their knowledge of consent. [...]

  6. patricia says:

    I agree with Giant Panda. In the US, at least, it pretty much meets every element to be rape. Horrible.

  7. canadian says:

    Comments
    Before everyone gets outraged….this does NOT happen as described in the G&M article. Pelvic exams are a normal part of gynecologic surgeries (think about it – usually they are operating through the vagina so they usually have to examine the area first). A medial student or resident may be the assistant for the surgery and often are asked to do the exam. Never do they “parade” in a group of students to do multiple pelvic exams. Never would this be done when a pelvic exam is not part of the surgery (ie getting your gallbladder out). I’ve worked in lots of ORs in Canada in 2 provinces – so I speak from experience.

  8. [...] Bad Touch: Canadian Hospitals Use Stealth Pelvic Exams [...]

  9. [...] Bad Touch: Canadian Hospitals Use Stealth Pelvic Exams [...]

  10. Amy says:

    Well, Canadian – thanks for clearing that up, all I could think of was “wow, holy cow!”

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