Mandatory HIV Testing Should Be Instituted for Public Health, Safety Officials Exposed to Bodily Fluids, Commentary Says
HIV testing should be mandatory in Massachusetts when public health or safety officials are exposed to a person's bodily fluids, Elissa Ely, a psychiatrist in the state, said on Monday in a commentary on NPR's "All Things Considered" (Ely, "All Things Considered," NPR, 6/7). The Massachusetts General Assembly's Joint Committee on Health Care in January held a hearing on a bill (SB 647) that would allow public health or safety officials who are exposed to a person's bodily fluids while working to learn whether the person is HIV-positive. Current state law requires hospitals and clinics to keep a patient's HIV status confidential. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Morrissey (D), would create an exception that would allow firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and medical personnel who are scratched, bitten or pricked with a needle while on duty to file a petition requesting the patient's HIV status. Under the bill, the hospital or clinic performing the testing would not be liable for releasing test results (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/15). According to Ely, Massachusetts' current HIV testing law was "passed protectively" to guard against "diagnostic self-incrimination" at a time when being HIV-positive was "medically and socially terminal." Ely said that signed permission is not required for other blood tests that often are conducted following hospital admission, but "[y]ou can't force anyone to take the [HIV] test, even when they've spit or bitten, even for the benefit of a victim." For exposed health care workers to decide whether to take prophylactic antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of HIV transmission without knowing the assailant's HIV status "is like undergoing a second assault that could have been prevented," Ely concluded ("All Things Considered," NPR, 6/7). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.