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The public revelation in 2003 that medical students perform intimate examinations without patient consent has engendered much debate in the press and scientific journals. Using this case as a springboard for discussion, I will argue that medical schools should encourage students to raise their ethical concerns and call for a change of policy making it easier for students to do so. I will also address the question of medical students’ moral obligations towards their patients, and conclude that medical students ought to express their discontent when faced with unethical practices or attitudes.
In early January 2003, a study appeared in the British Medical Journal revealing that nearly a quarter of rectal and vaginal examinations on anaesthetised patients were performed by medical students without patient consent.1 Although the study did not generate the firestorm of controversy many expected, it engendered much discussion on ethical issues surrounding informed consent and patient autonomy, as well as stressing the need for greater ethics training for medical students. As an ethical problem, however, the case of intimate examinations is, to my mind, relatively uninteresting. If we agree that it is wrong for doctors to perform a vaginal examination on a conscious person without their consent, then it follows that it will still be …
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