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Observations Ethics Man

Where law and ethics diverge: the ethics of intimate body searches

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 22 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6974
  1. Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer, medical ethics and law, King’s College London, and practising barrister
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

On 2 January 2013, in the small town of Denning, New Mexico, David Eckert failed to come to a complete stop at a “Stop” sign in a car park. A police officer spotted this infringement and asked him to step out of the vehicle. The officer thought Eckert appeared nervous, with an unusual posture. According to reports, an enthusiastic narcotics dog and an allegation that Eckert had previously hidden drugs in his rectum led a local judge to issue a warrant permitting an intimate body search of Eckert.

Armed with the warrant, the police brought Eckert to a doctor, who allegedly refused to perform the procedures on ethical grounds. Eckert was then taken to the regional medical centre, where he underwent radiography, digital rectal examinations, enemas, and a colonoscopy without his consent. These were performed by medical professionals.

No drugs were found. Eckert has issued proceedings against several defendants, including the city of Denning, the police officers, …

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