Three years ago, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law Ruth Anne Robbins asked her law students to research an emerging controversy: the practice of physicians and medical students performing invasive exams on unconscious patients without the patients' consent. New Jersey law at the time didn’t prohibit such patient-unauthorized exams. Robbins’ assignment paid off in a big way: In January 2022, New Jersey became one of 16 states to make the practice illegal, and the legislation’s passage can be credited to more than a few students from Rutgers Law School in Camden.
News articles began surfacing two decades ago about women—often victims of sexual assault—who were traumatized when they learned they had received, without prior consent, pelvic exams while under sedation for unrelated procedures. In many cases, these exams were done by medical school students as part of their training.
Robbins (who herself has a law degree from Rutgers Law School in Camden) wanted students in her “Legislative Policy and Drafting” course to conduct research on the problem and analyze other states’ legislation. “The students really had influence on the final shape of New Jersey’s law,” Robbins said.
The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, prohibits invasive medical exams on unconscious patients without their prior written consent. New Jersey Sen. Fred Madden, whose district includes parts of Camden and Gloucester counties, was a primary sponsor of the bill. “The Rutgers students played an instrumental role in this process,” he said. “Their research provided a template for fine-tuning the bill we had introduced. I am truly thankful for the active and conscientious input of the Rutgers Law students.”