Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Health Professionals and HIV

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Health Professionals and HIV

Article excerpt

For a few years now, judges have been deciding two main types of discrimination case involving health professionals and HIV. One sort entails HIV-positive patients who have been denied care by health care providers. Many of these suits involve dentists. The other kind centers around health professionals with HIV, often surgeons, who charge that hospitals blocking their opportunity to practice their chosen medical specialty run afoul of antidiscrimination law.

At the heart of these suits is an uncomfortable fact. Even when a health professional who performs invasive procedures takes appropriate precautions, the presence of HIV in either the patient or provider means that there exists a risk, albeit an extremely low one, that a nearly universally fatal disease will spread.

Courts have responded differently to this risk depending upon a variety of factors. However, one consideration that does seem to matter is whether the person seeking redress is a patient or a health professional. A trend can be discerned whereby antidiscrimination laws are understood as obliging providers to perform invasive procedures on infected patients, while at the same time granting infected providers few rights to engage in procedures involving the chance of transmitting their own blood to patients. Two spring 1995 federal court decisions illustrate this divide.

In US. v. Morvant (22 March 1995), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana found that a dentist who refused to treat patients with HIV had engaged in unlawful discrimination. A Louisiana dentist, Drew Morvant, had refused to clean the teeth of patients who were HIV-positive. Instead, he referred these patients to another general dentist. Claiming that treating Hiv-positive patients was outside his area of expertise, Morvant argued that the referrals served the interests of these patients, his other patients, and his staff. …

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