New York's state Senate passed a bill this week requiring the informed consent of patients for any healthcare procedure or examination, including those performed in the course of medical education or training.
The bill passed the Assembly March 14 and now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
If signed into law, it would make it clear that patients who are unconscious after being anesthetized for a procedure must have explicitly consented to any unrelated procedure—such as a pelvic, rectal or prostate exam—before they were anesthetized.
"There's a surprising disconnect between the culture of medicine, where intimate exams without explicit consent of the patient are considered a defensible, standard practice, and the rest of us, who are horrified that a trainee could be allowed to perform a pelvic or rectal exam without asking," said Amy Paulin, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Assembly. Paulin represents the 88th District, which includes Scarsdale as well as parts of New Rochelle and White Plains.
Under current state law, procedures and exams performed by physicians or other healthcare providers without informed consent can lead to professional misconduct charges as well as form the basis of medical malpractice actions, a spokesman for Paulin said via email.
Exceptions include many emergency medical procedures. Exams for medical education purposes have been a gray area as well, he added, with permissibility based on precedents in malpractice case law as opposed to clarity in statute or regulations.
"If the assemblymember's bill becomes law," the spokesman said, "it clarifies that these invasive exams need to be subject to the same informed-consent policies already in place and therefore subject to the same potential courses of action if not adhered to."
A spokeswoman for the Greater New York Hospital Association said via email that the organization supports both the bill and the principles of informed consent.
"Monitoring would be included in the supervision and oversight that is provided in academic training programs," she said.
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