In the Hospital Sick Male Patient Sleeps on the Bed. Heart Rate Monitor Equipment is on His Finger.


In Colorado, when a patient is sedated for surgery, it is legal for medical providers to perform unrelated intimate exams on the unconscious patient’s genitals without their consent. 

Lawmakers are trying to change that with House Bill 1077. If passed by the state legislature, the bill would prohibit medical providers from performing intimate exams on unconscious patients — including pelvic, prostate, breast and rectal exams — without the patient’s written consent ahead of time unless in emergency situations.

While presenting the bill, sponsor Rep. Jenny Willford, D-Northglenn, shared the story of a woman who was sedated for a knee surgery, then learned she received a pelvic exam while she was unconscious after her doctor said she had started her period. In a pelvic exam, a doctor inserts their fingers into a patient’s vagina.

“Consent matters in every context and situation,” Willford said. “Patients can be traumatized, betrayed and can suffer emotionally as they cope with unauthorized intimate exams, and my bill outlines rules for patient consent to protect Coloradans’ when they’re at their most vulnerable.”

Research shows intimate exams often occur on sedated patients as a way for medical students to practice. A 2019 survey of students from seven American medical schools found that 92% of medical students had performed a pelvic exam on an unconscious female patient, of which 61% said they did not have explicit consent from the patient.

Regional surveys from the early 2000s reached similar conclusions. At the University of Oklahoma, a majority of medical students had performed pelvic exams on unconscious women and nearly 75% of the patients did not consent to the exam. Among medical students in Philadelphia, 90% said they’d performed pelvic exams on unconscious women and they weren’t sure if the women consented.

Twenty-one states have already outlawed performing pelvic exams on unconscious patients without consent, including California, New York and Texas, according to the Epstein Health Law and Policy Program. The American Medical Association has also explicitly disavowed the practice. 

“In any other situation this would be sexual assault,” said Medha Gudavalli, a medical student and member of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testifying in support of the bill. “We need laws like this to clearly uphold patient autonomy. ... Generations of medical students are not learning how to properly consent patients.”

The House Health and Insurance Committee unanimously approved the bill Friday morning, sending it to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Democrats and Republicans alike stood behind the bill, in addition to the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, Coloradans for Legal Freedom, Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Colorado Psychiatric Society and Violence Free Colorado.

No one opposed the bill, though the Colorado Hospital Association is seeking to amend the bill to remove liability of hospitals if an employee violates the new law. No official amendments have been introduced.

“I can’t believe this isn’t already the law,” said Rep. Kyle Brown, D-Louisville, while voting in support of the bill. “The fact that we have to pass a bill to ensure basic safety of patients, to ensure that they’re not being sexually assaulted is abhorrent.” 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.