Connecticut to Require Consent for Unconscious Pelvic Exams

Examination table Credit: Salivanchuk Semen via Shutterstock

A bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Ned Lamont places Connecticut among more than a dozen states that have recently enacted policies requiring health care providers to seek a patient’s consent before conducting pelvic examinations on unconscious or sedated patients.

The policy, which was passed unanimously this year by both chambers of the legislature, requires providers to receive express permission from a patient before conducting an “intimate examination” of the patient’s pelvic region. The bill requires a separate consent if medical students or other individuals who are not part of the patient’s care team will be present during the exam.

Lamont’s signature makes Connecticut the 20th state with a law on the books restricting unauthorized intimate examinations. According to the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois, it is the 15th state to enact such a policy since 2019.

“It’s a good bill,” Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, said when the legislation was debated in the House. “It’s been a national effort for many to make sure that procedures are properly consented to and I appreciate that Connecticut is joining.”

When the Public Health Committee heard public testimony on the issue in March, some patients detailed the trauma they felt when they experienced such unwanted examinations.

“I know I never consented to the exam because I woke up in stirrups screaming,” Ashley S. Weitz, a victim advocate from Utah, wrote. “As a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, the experience was as confusing as it was traumatizing.”

The policy was not without its opponents, however. Despite encouraging providers to have explicit conversations with patients regarding exams under anesthesia, the Connecticut State Medical Society worried the state’s effort to mandate specific medical practices set a troubling precedent.

Other providers worried the law would impede the training of medical students by barring them from the examinations. During the floor debate, Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said the language of the final bill was drafted following conversations with medical schools in Connecticut and allowed for medical students to be included in patient care teams or receive explicit consent from the patient to be present.

The state Division of Criminal Justice also submitted concerns that the policy could prevent medical providers from collecting evidence in situations in which a sexual assault victim was unconscious following an attack. Gilchrest said the bill as passed would not impact the collection of evidence for sexual assault forensic exam kits.

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