The Law, Medical Students, and Assault
BMJ (British Medical Journal). 1992 Jun 13; 304(6841): 1551-1553.
As students most doctors will have performed examinations on anaesthetised patients who have not given explicit consent. Surgeons invited or told the students to participate. It might have been embarrassing to do vaginal examinations under the instructions of the gynaecologist, but did anyone realise that they were laying themselves open to charges of assault? This article discusses the differences between students and doctors with reference to the law about touching patients. Although it has not yet been tested in the courts, a student would have little defence to a charge of assault and might be liable to punitive damages. Traditionally, medical students have been taught how to do vaginal examinations by examining women who are anaesthetised. Concern has been expressed about this being done without the woman's consent or knowledge. Some medical schools have introduced consent procedures, but these are by no means universal. Although I will be discussing vaginal examination my conclusions are relevant to all specialties where students touch patients.