Early Profiling of AIDS Patients Offers Lesson for Protecting Civil Liberties While Preventing Terrorism, Op-Ed Says
Taking universal precautions -- the "solution we ultimately devised to guard against AIDS" -- provides "an effective strategy for preventing terrorism that still protects civil rights," Dr. Carlos Neu, a member of the ethics committee at Arbour Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Mass., writes in a Boston Globe op-ed. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, some doctors and public health officials "thought that there was no choice but to approach high-risk populations differently," Neu states, noting that some people advocated segregating gay men, intravenous drug users and prostitutes, and that many physicians refused to treat AIDS patients. According to Neu, "Powerful forces were attempting to generate new guidelines that would have formalized the discrimination and segregation of people whose profiles suggested that they could be HIV carriers," much as some people are calling for the profiling of men with "Middle Eastern-like features" in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. With the AIDS epidemic, however, it became "clear that every single person was a potential carrier," and physicians ultimately adopted universal precautions, such as the use of surgical gloves during examinations and whenever any bodily fluids were handled. "Clinicians and the public learned that if these simple safety measures were applied, profiling was no longer relevant," Neu states, adding that universal precautions, such as spot checks at airports or asking for identification, can be used to prevent terrorist actions. "As long as the authority is intervening because of reasonable concerns and not because the subject belongs to a given social, ethnic or religious group, we should recognize that in the present time and climate such activity is just as reasonable as the glove the physician wears every time he examines a patient," he writes. "Each one of us should be given the benefit of the doubt while at the same time be subjected to the same scrutiny. Most of us will welcome the application of principles that respect diversity and human dignity while protecting us from dangers that hide within each and every human group," Neu concludes (Neu, Boston Globe, 12/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.