Illinois Bill That Would Require HIV Counseling for Pregnant Women, Testing for Infants Does Not Go Far Enough, Chicago Tribune Opinion Piece Says
The Illinois Legislature is considering a bill (SB 263) that would require health care workers to provide voluntary HIV counseling and testing to pregnant women and would mandate HIV testing for infants born to women whose HIV status is unknown, but the legislation as written would "allow dozens of infants to be sentenced to a life of pain and near certain early death," Dennis Byrne, a Chicago-based writer and public affairs consultant, writes in a Chicago Tribune opinion piece (Byrne, Chicago Tribune, 4/28). The bill, which has already passed the Senate and is expected to be considered in the House this week, would require that any pregnant woman who decides to be tested sign an informed consent form before undergoing the test, a system otherwise known as "opt-in" testing. However, under the measure, infants born to women whose HIV status is not known would automatically be tested for the virus, unless the mother signed a form to "opt-out" of the infant testing. The CDC in the April 18 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report outlined its new HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, which includes recommendations for opt-out testing for pregnant women. According to the CDC, opt-in HIV testing systems do not work as well as opt-out systems that do not ask for specific consent (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/22). Although some say the bill is a "welcome compromise," Byrne says it is "unbelievable" that lawmakers "refus[e] to pass a law that would [safeguard almost all infants from vertical transmission], instead preferring a 'compromise' that would affect 'only' several dozen children a year." Some "civil-libertarians" think HIV-positive pregnant women have the right to refuse testing and "subject their children to a 30% chance of being infected with HIV," Byrne continues, adding, "By any public health standard, a 30% chance of transmitting a deadly disease to anyone is unacceptable, if not criminal." Byrne concludes, "[B]y what token does anyone -- especially a health professional -- justify a 30% risk factor for infecting a newborn with a deadly disease? ... What kind of ideology embraces such a barbaric imbalance of rights and responsibilities?" (Chicago Tribune, 4/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.