Ethics

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Intimate body searches

Doctors and nurses are sometimes asked to perform intimate body searches of people in police custody, prisoners or people suspected by HM Customs & Excise of smuggling drugs or other goods.

The BMA and the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine (FFLM) believe that detained individuals and suspects who are capable of considering the issues and reaching a decision should always be invited to give consent irrespective of the fact that, in certain circumstances, consent is not a legal requirement.

At its annual representative meeting in 1989, the BMA discussed this issue and passed the following resolution, which became the formal policy of the Association:

‘That this meeting believes that no medical practitioner should take part in an intimate body search of a subject without that subject’s consent.’

This guidance specifically addresses the situation where an intimate examination is proposed, which is not primarily for the medical benefit of the individual. Where valid consent is obtained, doctors may undertake such examinations although, as the search will not be for the benefit of the patient, particular attention needs to be given to the potential pressures on the individual’s consent.

 

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Intimate body searches guidance, July2010