Intimate medical procedures on sedated patients would require informed consent under bill
Colorado legislators are looking to make Colorado the next state to pass an informed consent law, prohibiting the performance of intimate medical procedures on sedated patients without their explicit consent.
House Bill 23-1077, which unanimously passed through the Legislature’s Health & Insurance Committee, would require doctors, residents, medical students and any other health care professional to receive informed consent from a patient before performing intimate exams while the patient is sedated or unconscious.
The bill will now go to the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Jenny Willford, the primary sponsor of the bill in the House, said at the Health committee Feb. 3 that research shows 90% of medical students perform nonconsensual exams on sedated patients in the name of medical education. Another report she cited shows that people of color are four times more likely to experience nonconsensual exams.
“What’s unconscionable is that unless you’re told about the exam, or were injured or experience PTSD, you’d likely never know that the exam happened while you were sedated,” Willford, a Northglenn Democrat, said at the committee hearing. “Nonconsenual exams including pelvic, prostate, rectal and breast exams are widespread for medical training, and anyone living in a state without a law specifically banning them is vulnerable under sedation at a teaching institution.”
Across the U.S., 21 states have already banned this practice, and the bill aiming to do so in Colorado is likely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Colorado remains one of 29 states where the practice remains legal.
The bill would prohibit intimate exams on an unconscious patient unless they provide explicit written consent, with additional protections included for the patient if they consent. Willford said exams would only be allowed for medical or educational purposes, the patient can specify how many times an exam can be performed with a maximum of three, and the patient will meet the professionals who will perform the exam alongside the licensee involved.
In any other situation, this would be sexual assault. It is time that we stop this harmful practice once and for all.
If a medical professional or student fails to comply or retaliates against a person who complains about a violation, the person would be subject to discipline by the regulator of their specific health care profession. Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment could also impose sanctions on licensed health care facilities that fail to comply with the bill.
Medha Gudavalli, a medical student who spoke at the committee on behalf of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said that despite various major professional associations denouncing the practice of performing nonconsensual medical exams, the practice regularly occurs. She said that standing up to an attending physician to do the right thing can cost a medical student their career before it’s even started, and the bill is a step in the right direction to build back trust in the medical field.
“As a medical trainee I know first hand how important the consent process is to providing excellent care,” Gudavalli said. “In any other situation, this would be sexual assault. It is time that we stop this harmful practice once and for all. We need laws like this that clearly uphold patient autonomy, outline consequences and protect whistleblowers.
Joshua Ewing, vice president of government affairs with the Colorado Hospital Association, said the association is in favor of the bill, but it wants to see an amendment that would remove a provision holding the facilities responsible if one of their employees violates the bill. He said the way the bill is currently set up doesn’t align with how informed consent requirements operate in the medical field, but some legislators were hesitant about removing the provision.
“This is one of those situations where I can’t believe this isn’t already the law, and 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 abhorent,” Democratic Rep. Kyle Brown of Louisville said. “Regarding the comments from the Colorado Hospital Association, I have to say I am disappointed. I know that I am personally not interested in creating a regulatory structure that limits the hospital liability in these particular cases. The hospitals are responsible for what goes on between their four walls, and they will create policies and create contracts with the providers that will hold their providers accountable if they are held appropriately liable.”