Australian court hears landmark HIV case

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 08 2003 11:00 PM ET

An Australian state supreme court this week heard a landmark case on HIV transmission that could eventually allow doctors to breach doctor-patient confidentiality protections to provide the spouses or fiances of HIV-positive people information about the person's infection, The [Melbourne] Age reports. The case was brought by a 28-year-old woman, identified in court documents as PD, who sued two doctors for negligence and breach of contract for failing to tell her about her fiance's HIV status during a consultation on premarital sexually transmitted disease. One of the doctors told the man that he was infected with both HIV and hepatitis B, warned him to practice safer sex, instructed him to seek care at a local clinic, and told him to inform his partner. The doctor did not tell the female partner of the infections due to doctor-patient privacy laws. The man falsified his test result certificate to indicate that he was HIV-negative and lied to his fiancee about the results. The woman has subsequently tested positive for HIV antibodies.

The defense attorneys argued that if the doctors had breached the man's confidentiality, they would have opened themselves up to lawsuits and charges of professional and criminal misconduct. But the woman's attorneys argued that because the tests were required before the couple's marriage and both partners willingly underwent the screenings, the results should have been disclosed by the physicians to both partners. The plaintiff also claims that the doctors did not properly follow up with the couple to ensure that the woman was not being exposed to the diseases, particularly after the man failed to report to the HIV/AIDS clinic for treatment as instructed.

If the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, it could give doctors and officials at HIV and STD clinics in Australia the legal authority to inform the partners of HIV-positive people and those with other infectious diseases of the infections with or without the patient's consent. AIDS and health advocacy groups have lined up on both sides of the issue.

Tags: Health

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