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Duty To Treat AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) Patients

NCJ Number
Trial Volume: 24 Issue: 5 Dated: (May 1988) Pages: 22-25
K Benesch; T Homisak
Date Published
4 pages
This article asks what obligations a doctor has to provide treatment to a person infected with AIDS or diagnosed as having human immunodeficiency virus positive (HIV-positive) or AIDS-related complex (ARC).
If a doctor accepts a patient, a doctor-patient relationship is created. The doctor then has a legal duty to use sound medical judgment to care for the patient within reasonable medical standards. If the doctor breaches the duty to treat the patient, the patient can sue in tort for malpractice or ordinary negligence or in contract for an express or implied breach. While a doctor has no duty to accept any patient who seeks his services, once the doctor-patient relationship has been established, it can be terminated only by consent of both patient and doctor. In most circumstances, for the doctor to unilaterally terminate the relationship constitutes abandonment. Doctors who treat AIDS patients run a risk of being infected with the disease. Does the fact that the patient's illness can be contracted by the physician excuse the physician from the duty of care? An employee whose life or safety is endangered by treating an AIDS patient may be justified under Occupational Safety and Health Act rules to refuse to treat. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) have issued statements suggesting it would be inappropriate to refuse to establish a treatment relationship with AIDS patients. The AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has pointed out that a physician's duty in providing treatment to patients in the AIDS epidemic is no different from what would be expected in any other epidemic. When an epidemic prevails, 'a physician must continue his labors without regard to risk to his own health.' Whether or not a physician is liable, a hospital or nursing home may be accountable under State or Federal statutes for discriminating against an AIDS patient. 12 footnotes.


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