Consent a must, says women’s group on doctor’s physical examination

The public must be able to access healthcare without fear of sexual harassment or physical safety, says the All Women’s Action Society. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: A women’s group today said that guidelines issued by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) state that a patient’s consent must be obtained before a procedure, examination, surgery or treatment is carried out.

All Women’s Action Society (Awam) said MMC’s guidelines – which cover seven types of consent in healthcare – are important for good medical practice as well since they carry legal requirements except in cases of emergency.

“It is important that both the public and the medical personnel be very clear about their actions and the rules surrounding consent during physical examinations.

“The public must be able to access healthcare without fear of sexual harassment or physical safety,” it said in a statement, adding that the health ministry and medical practitioners must recognise that consent given must be in the form of informed consent and not implied consent.

Awam was responding to Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye’s statement that doctors were not required to seek consent before physically examining their patients.

Lee said this when asked to comment on a recent sexual harassment case at a clinic in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, where a journalist was alleged to have been touched inappropriately by her dermatologist.

Lee was reported to have said that during a physical examination, it is assumed that the patient was agreeable to being touched, except during “evasive” examinations such as a vaginal or rectal examination. He said it was then that doctors needed to get a patient’s consent.

Awam said while Lee’s response was referring to implied consent, it would like to stress the importance of informed consent in the medical field, especially in light of the recent allegations by a patient against her dermatologist.

They went on to say that the guidelines also stipulate the presence of a chaperone, usually a nurse, in the consultation room throughout the examination.

“In the event that a patient declines to have a chaperone, the practitioner should document the case or include it formally as Incident Reporting,” Awam said.