Let’s talk about rapist doctors.
I’m not talking about doctors who take advantage of anesthetized patients. That’s a problem law enforcement can deal with. What I’m talking about is someone like Dr. Michael Parsa, who works at the University Medical Center of El Paso, and who essentially raped an unidentified woman for the police, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU:
39. After the X-ray, Ms. Doe was again handcuffed to the examination table. CBP agents Portillo and Herrera and Medical Center personnel were present in the room. Defendants left the door to the examining room open, and Ms. Doe could see hospital personnel at the nurses’ station in the hallway. She was angry that CBP had not released her and scared about what would happen next.
40. Defendant Parsa entered the examination room and barked an order that Ms. Doe spread her legs. She complied.
41. Ms. Doe was mortified. Defendants did not even have the decency to close the door to the examining room so that Ms. Doe would not also be subjected to being observed by passersby as she endured a forced gynecological exam.
42. Defendant Parsa then conducted a series of examinations. While agents Portillo and Herrera and other Medical Center staff watched, he inserted a speculum into Ms. Doe’s vagina and observed the interior cavity. According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not see any foreign objects or evidence of internal drug smuggling.
43. Defendant Parsa also stuck his fingers into Ms. Doe’s vagina while palpitating her abdomen. This bimanual cavity search was negative: According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not feel any foreign objects or evidence of internal drug smuggling.
44. Defendant Parsa also conducted a rectal examination: he inserted his fingers into Ms. Doe’s rectum and probed the orifice for foreign bodies. According to medical records, Defendant Parsa did not feel any or find evidence of internal drug smuggling.
45. While her rectum was being probed, agents Portillo and Herrera and Medical Center staff watched. Ms. Doe felt that she was being treated less than human, like an animal.
The police didn’t even have a warrant, which means that if these allegations are true, then a bunch of people brought a woman into the University Medical Center of El Paso against her will, and just because they asked him to, Dr. Michael Parsa inserted his fingers and a foreign object into her vagina and rectum against her will. That sounds like rape to me.
When something similar happened to David Eckert at the Gila Regional Medical Center last January — multiple medical explorations of his rectum — the police had at least gone through the trouble of obtaining a search warrant. I’m not convinced that getting an okay from a judge for this kind of violation makes it any better, but in theory the warrant compelled David Eckert to comply with the probings.
It did not, however, compel the doctors to perform the probings. I’m not a lawyer, so don’t use this as legal advice, but until the doctors performed their examinations, they were completely uninvolved with the investigation, and therefore beyond the judge’s jurisdiction. Judges can compel people to produce evidence and reveal knowledge that they already have, but they don’t generally have the authority to order random third parties to obtain evidence and discover knowledge. They can’t, for example, order random photographers to go take pictures of a crime scene for them. David Eckert may not have had a choice, but the doctors did, and I think they chose unethically.
As I pointed out a few years ago, when the subject of forced catheterization came up in connection with a DUI testing incident, the general ethical requirement is that medical procedures should only be done with the informed consent of the patient, and for the benefit of the patient. Consent has its exceptions — in cases where the patient is incompetent to consent, due to mental defect, unconsciousness, or minor status, certain family members can give consent, and there have been cases where a judge overrode a guardian’s refusal to give consent (e.g. had religious objections) to a lifesaving medical procedure, but in each of these cases the treatments were still done for the patient’s benefit.
That’s not what happened here. The examinations performed in all of these cases were not done in any way to benefit the patient, but to benefit the government’s war on drugs. I think the only ethical response to such requests is to refuse to do them.
There’s plenty of precedent for physicians refusing for ethical reasons to do things which they government wants them to do, the most prominent example being the refusal by nearly all American physicians to perform court-ordered executions. And although I can’t find any AMA ethics rules that specifically address forensic examinations conducted against the patient’s will, the AMA rules about participating in court-ordered medical treatments seem sort-of relevant:
Physicians can ethically participate in court-initiated medical treatments only if the procedure being mandated is therapeutically efficacious and is therefore undoubtedly not a form of punishment or solely a mechanism of social control.
So, for example, doctors might use drugs to calm a prisoner with a mental disorder that causes extreme agitation and self-harm, but they shouldn’t simply drug prisoners to make them more manageable for the benefit of the prison staff. Since the examinations conducted in these incidents have no clear medical purpose, they seem a lot more like the latter than the former.
I should note that I’m not saying that Dr. Parsa (or any of these other genital-handling doctors) is a rapist in the usual sense of the word: There’s no indication they did any of these things for their own enjoyment, and they certainly weren’t charged with the crime of rape. My guess is that they were all just having another busy day in the emergency department when someone in charge said “Go help those officers,” and so they did their thing and moved on to the next patient without thinking it through. But here are a few things they should probably think about next time some cops come in wanting someone examined:
Dr. Parsa and the others may not have been charged with rape, but I’ll bet that at least a few of them are rapists in the legal sense of the word. The key to most rape laws is the consent of the victim, not the motivation of the rapist. I’m pretty sure prosecutors never have to prove that the rapist enjoyed it.
And while you might think a doctor would be immune from prosecution because they were working with the police or participating in a court-ordered exam, the thing is that many states’ criminal statutes are notoriously poor at exempting law enforcement actions. For example, in states with the death penalty, the legal definition of murder might not include an exemption for legal executions. My guess is that the rape statutes in many states are no more thoughtfully written and do not include exemptions for law enforcement cavity searches, because no prosecutor would ever charge that. This does mean, however, that any doctor who participates in such searches is probably at the mercy of the District Attorney — and any succeeding District Attorneys — until the statute of limitations runs out.
Or perhaps more to the point, do you really want to do anything to an unconsenting human being that might or might not be rape only because a judge or a cop told you it would be okay? Shouldn’t you make that decision for yourself? And shouldn’t the right answer be obvious?
The title of this post is a lie. No means no. There is no medical exception.