HIV Infection and AIDS in the Public Health and Health Care Systems: The Role of Law and Litigation

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Abstract

The AIDS Litigation Project has reviewed nearly 600 reported cases involving individuals with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the federal and state courts in the United States between 1991 and 1997.Cases were identified through a federal and 50-state computer and library search. An important subset of litigation relates to HIV/AIDS in the public health and health care systems, since the law affects health care institutions and professionals, patients, and public health policy in America. This subset of HIV/AIDS litigation includes testing and reporting; privacy, the duty to warn, and the right to know; physician standards of care in prevention and treatment; and discrimination and access to health care. In broad terms, the review demonstrates a reliance on voluntary testing and protection of patient privacy through HIV-specific statutes and the common law. Negligence with potential civil and criminal liability has been alleged in cases of erroneous or missed diagnosis of HIV infection. In the first AIDS case to be considered by the Supreme Court, the Court will decide whether patients with asymptomatic HIV infection are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Considerable progress has been made, both socially and legally, during the first 2 decades of the epidemic, but much still needs to be accomplished to protect privacy, prevent discrimination, and promote tolerance.

JAMA.1998;279:1108-1113

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