Missouri Law To Protect Emergency Health Care Workers Would Permit Involuntary Disease Testing of Patients
A Missouri law that allows hospitals to conduct contagious disease tests on the patients of emergency health care providers went into effect at the end of last month, the Kansas City Star reports. The law, which is aimed at protecting emergency workers from contracting diseases such as hepatitis from their patients, was "quietly" passed in May as an amendment to a large bill on emergency care services. No one testified against the amendment, although the ACLU has opposed such laws in the past, the Star reports. Two Kansas City firefighters in recent years have died of hepatitis, which their families assume was the result of contact with the body fluids of their patients. "Emergency medical workers have never been entitled to know what condition someone has, nor has the law recognized the presumption that if we had a disease, we were exposed in the line of duty," Louie Wright, president of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said. Under the new law, which fire fighters have already attempted to use, hospitals are not required to test patients but are instead "grant[ed] immunity from civil or criminal liability" if they do or do not conduct such a test. The emergency medical worker's employer would be responsible for covering the cost of the test. The law does not allow patients to be tested for HIV because it is addressed by "other state laws," state Rep. Jenee Lowe (D), one of the sponsors of the bill, said. Supporters of the law contend that confirmation of a communicable disease in a patient could help an emergency care provider prove that a contracted disease was work-related.
Workers' Health vs. Patient Privacy
John Corbett, president of the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, said that the health of emergency health care workers "outweighs" the privacy concerns of patients. Marsha Richeson, Missouri's ACLU lobbyist, said she was not aware of the passage of the new law and added that the ACLU favors consent before any medical testing. She said that a positive blood test for a communicable disease would still not prove that an emergency health care worker contracted the disease from the patient. Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said that the exemption for HIV testing could be "construed as violating the Constitution because it is not giving people with other diseases equal protection." He added that he was unaware of such a law in any other state, although Corbett said that the law was based on a similar law in Iowa (Murphy, Kansas City Star, 9/20).