Del. Bell Rewards Bill Helpers

July 14, 2007  |  Daily Progress

by Bob Gibson

A new state law prohibiting unauthorized pelvic exams by medical students earned a Washington & Lee University law professor one of 10 “citizen lawmaker” awards presented Friday by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County.

Robin Wilson won the presentation from Bell for her inspiration, research and work that led the General Assembly this year to pass House Bill 2969, which he said prohibits the little-known but common practice at teaching hospitals of allowing medical students to perform pelvic exams on anesthetized patients without explicit consent.

Wilson, who had sat on a hospital ethics committee, said a young woman in training had come to her and said, “I am being asked to do pelvic exams on women without their permission.”

“I about dropped my jaw and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me,’” Wilson said after Bell thanked her for the idea for the legislation and the work that went into proving it was needed in Virginia.

Bell said the professor “thought that was wrong and she brought this to my attention, and it never would have passed without her research and testimony.”

The new law requires informed consent for such exams, which Wilson found to be common without such consent in medical schools in Virginia, the rest of the United States, Canada and Great Britain. A New England Journal of Medicine column in March found that a new requirement to ask patients specifically for consent ‘“rankles physicians who downplay the distinction’ between medical students doing the exam for their own educational benefit and those who do the exam for the patient’s benefit.”

After interviews at Virginia’s three medical schools in the past year, Wilson said she found “there’s every reason to believe that women are continuing, under anesthesia, to provide teaching opportunities to medical students and not great evidence that there is consent.”

The women were “not being told about it,” which is ironic because typically “women consent, but they want to be asked,” said the University of Virginia law school graduate who was in a small study group with Bell at the law school.

Bell handed framed plaques to Wilson as well as seven other winners of his annual “citizen lawmaker” awards Friday in a brief ceremony in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse.

Charlottesville police Capt. Chip Harding won an award for his work leading to passage of House Bill 3034, which sets statewide standards for collecting DNA samples from offenders who have committed a felony, including more than 7,000 individuals whose DNA was not collected but should have been.

That legislation “is probably the single biggest bill that has ever been brought to me by an individual citizen,” Bell said.

Harding discovered that thousands of DNA samples were missing from the state’s DNA databank and helped Bell change the law to standardize and ensure DNA collection from felons.

“We are just hoping that we have that long shot that our serial rapist may be one of these thousands” whose missing DNA is being collected now, Harding said.

Bell introduced all the award winners, saying Virginia is a better place because of the laws they helped pass.

He recognized Nancy McCord and Steve Anderson as two key citizens whose work led to his bill limiting the power of eminent domain and requiring that land seized by government be for public uses.

Dr. Deborah Perina and Dr. Sabina Braithwaite, a pair of UVa physicians, won awards for their work to require that before any mental health temporary detention order is issued the recommendations of any treating or examining physician be considered.

Fred Scott won an award for his inspiration that Virginia should make it “more automatic” to expunge a court record after a writ of actual innocence is issued or an absolute pardon is granted.

Scott, a former GOP House of Delegates candidate from North Garden, “saw a movie about somebody who was wrongfully convicted” and wanted to ensure that such individuals “should get the expungement more easily,” Bell said.

William Tomlin, who has worked as a city police sergeant, won an award for pushing a tax-relief measure for owners of leased vehicles who were not getting the proper property tax relief, Bell said.

Caroline Ohle, director of Innisfree Village in western Albemarle, helped craft legislation for more reasonable criteria for licensing and inspection of homes for mentally challenged adults, Bell said.

Richard Moore, an assistant Albemarle prosecutor, was honored for helping gain passage of a law that Bell said eliminated a loophole in the court venue for child pornography cases.

Jon R. Zug, a fellow prosecutor, accepted the award for Moore for the measure that Bell said is needed because it remains difficult to prove where pornographic images are produced.

Eileen Addison won an award for her work on behalf of a bill that makes it a Class 6 felony to injure someone as a result of operating a watercraft while drunk, Bell said.

Bell typically gives about 10 “citizen lawmaker” awards a year to constituents and others who suggest legislation and work to help get it passed.

© 2007 Daily Progress

J. E. "Chip" Harding

Albemarle Sheriff's Office
410 E. High Street
Charlottesville, Va 22902