The concerning practice of conducting invasive examinations on unconscious patients without their prior consent or knowledge will now be prohibited in New Jersey under a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Gabriela Mosquera and Valerie Vainieri Huttle that was signed into law Tuesday.
Medical students have reported experiences in which they were instructed by resident physicians to conduct an examination of an unconscious patient’s pelvic or other private area once the medically-necessary exam/procedure itself had already concluded. These invasive exams have been used to train medical students in fields such as gynecology, yet patients usually are not informed of the exam or asked for permission in advance.
Under the law (formerly bill A-1489/S-1771) health care practitioners will be required to obtain informed consent prior to performing any inspection of a patient’s reproductive organs, breasts or rectum. The law’s consent requirements do not apply to circumstances in which the practitioner must conduct an invasive exam in order to provide necessary emergency care.
The law states that any health care practitioner who fails to obtain written consent prior to conducting a non-emergency invasive exam will be subject to discipline for professional misconduct.
Upon the measure becoming law, Assembly sponsors Moriarty, Mosquera (both D-Camden, Gloucester) and Vainieri Huttle (formerly D-Bergen) issued the following joint statement:
“It is highly troubling that patients have been subjected to invasive examinations without any knowledge of or say in the matter. Consent to a medical procedure involving anesthesia does not automatically include consent for other non-essential medical activities.
“While it is important for medical students to gain experience in the field, doctors should know better than to perform invasive procedures on unconscious patients who cannot advocate for themselves, by using them as a learning tool without their prior consent. Patients put their trust in their doctors, and this practice is nothing less than a violation of that trust.
“We must protect the rights of New Jersey patients by requiring prior notification and authorization before any such exam can be conducted going forward.”
The act takes effect immediately.