Using Tort Law to Secure Patient Dignity

13 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2004

See all articles by Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson

University of Illinois College of Law

John Duncan


Dan Luginbill

Ness, Jett & Tanner, LLC

Matthew Richardson

Wyche, Burgess, Freeman & Parham, PA


The practice of using anesthetized patients to teach pelvic exams on female patients in university hospitals has been well documented for years. A 1992 study showed that 37 percent of U.S. and Canadian medical schools allowed students to use anesthetized women without their consent to learn how to perform pelvic exams. Anecdotal accounts in the U.S. confirm that men are not immune from such indignities. Although patients have been unable, thus, far to enforce their own interests and protect their dignity, the tort system may yet succeed in securing the right of patients to decide who touches their bodies and under what circumstances.

Using tort law to secure patient dignity examines the theories of recovery available to those who have been the subject of unauthorized teaching exams. It evaluates a patient's likely success under theories of medical battery and malpractice, failure to obtain informed consent, and breach of fiduciary duty. It explores the obstacles to recovery and the arguments that will be raised by physicians and teaching hospitals in defense of this practice, and concludes that the tort system may be the most effective vehicle to redress the unauthorized use of patients' bodies as teaching tools and to curb this practice.

Keywords: Patient rights, pelvic exams, informed consent, medical malpractice, medical battery, informed consent, fiduciary duty

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Robin Fretwell and Duncan, John and Luginbill, Dan and Richardson, Matthew, Using Tort Law to Secure Patient Dignity. Journal of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Vol. 42, pp. 42-51, October 2004, Copyright. Available at SSRN:

Robin Fretwell Wilson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217.244.7582 (Phone)


John Duncan

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Dan Luginbill

Ness, Jett & Tanner, LLC ( email )

2878 N. Main Highway
Bamberg, SC 29003
United States

Matthew Richardson

Wyche, Burgess, Freeman & Parham, PA ( email )

1122 Lady Street, Suite 810, 29201
Post Office Box 12247
Columbia, 29211-2247
United States

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