Medical Necessity and Consent for Intimate Procedures


Brian D. Earp and Lori Bruce

Full citation: 
Earp BD, Bruce L. Medical necessity and consent for intimate procedures. Journal of Medical Ethics 2023;49:591-593.
This issue considers the ethics of a healthcare provider intervening into a patient’s genitalia, whether by means of cutting or surgery or by ‘mere’ touching/examination. Authors argue that the permissibility of such actions in the absence of a relevant medical emergency does not primarily turn on third-party judgments of expected levels of physical harm versus benefit, or on related notions such as extensiveness or invasiveness; rather, it turns on the patient’s own consent. To bolster this argument, attention is drawn to the status of the genitals as ‘intimate’ anatomy—a status that is not fully erased by being in a medical context. In this editorial, we draw on the work of Talia Mae Bettcher on ‘intimate agency’ to explore why unconsented interventions into the genitalia may constitute a distinctive sort of personal violation compared to unconsented contact with various other parts of the human body.
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