Should The Government Test For HIV Without a Patient’s Consent?

HeatherN examines a new bill in Indiana that would allow doctors to test a person for HIV without their consent or knowledge.

I’ve always been against the government protecting people from themselves. However, I definitely think that part of the government’s job is to protect its citizens from others who are attempting to harm them. So when I read this article about a new bill in Indiana that would allow doctors to test someone for HIV without their consent or knowledge, I wasn’t quite sure what to think at first.

On the one hand it’s a major violation of privacy; it doesn’t get much more personal or private than a person’s blood. A person should have complete control over their body, including what tests are performed on their blood. On the other hand, the CDC estimates that nearly 1 in 5 people who are infected with HIV don’t know. If everyone were tested, then at least people wouldn’t unknowingly transmit the virus.

I think there is perhaps a better way to ensure that more people are tested for HIV that doesn’t result in violating a person’s privacy. At the moment, a lot of testing for HIV and other STIs is done in special clinics. What’s more, there is still a great deal of shame associated with having an STI, especially HIV. Instead of testing someone for HIV without their consent, I think we should be focused on normalizing getting tested.

Imagine if the blood work for a routine physical included testing for HIV and other STIs. You go in, they draw blood, and along with testing your cholesterol and blood sugar, they also test for STIs. That is what I think we should be working toward and if anything, what Indiana is doing could potentially make getting tested for HIV even less normalized and more frightening.

What do you think? Is this a violation of civil rights? 

How can we better prevent the spread of HIV if this many people don’t realize they’re infected?

Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda

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About HeatherN

Heather N. is a Californian living in the United Kingdom. In order to survive, she has developed a keen appreciation for the color grey, rain, and sausage rolls. She spends far too much time reading, writing, blogging, and gaming. You can also find her saying witty things on Twitter.

Comments

  1. All of your points are valid, however…

    I used to work in a lab doing research that involved donated human blood and tissue. As a condition of donation the donors had to sign a form that let us test for HIV/ Hepatitis ect… so that we could do our work in at containment level 2, not level 3 (which is a massive faff to work in.)

    I imagine the staff who are working with the blood would like to know how dangerous it is.

    • Well first, they didn’t mention anything about staff safety. But second, in the case of Indiana, the only thing they are testing for is HIV. It looks like if your doctor thinks you might have it, then s/he can test for it. They wouldn’t even necessarily have been drawing any blood otherwise.

  2. AnonymousDog says:

    When I was in grade school 45+ years ago, we were lined up and tested for tuberculosis. I don’t remember any releases or waivers being signed.

  3. This is a great sentiment:
    “Instead of testing someone for HIV without their consent, I think we should be focused on normalizing getting tested.”

    And it would totally work if we lived in a world where everyone made objectively good decisions all the time.

    However, we live in a world where parents have decided that conspiracy theories relating to vaccinations are more reliable than actual medical science. We live in a world where people believe that Google can make up for never having attended 4 years of medical school. We live in a world where celebrities will tell us that going on certain diets will be just as effective as chemo therapy when it comes to fighting cancer.

    We do not live in a world where normalization of STI screening will result in anything close to the level of testing we need to ensure the safety of doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians (to say nothing of the young sexually active people out there).

    If the records are sealed, and the doctors involved are covered by confidentiality, then there is no real invasion of privacy. Let them do the tests.

    • Medical records are already confidential, and in order to see HIV test results you need a special wavier, even as someone working at a hospital or doctor’s office. At least, that’s how it worked when I was working at a doctor’s office a few years ago. I was able to look at and photocopy medical records for a variety of reasons, but I wasn’t cleared to look at HIV results.

      Here’s the thing though, about it not being a violation if it’s all confidential. We have laws protecting people from being wire-tapped (or have their e-mails looked at, etc) without a warrant, and it was a huge mess when the Patriot Act came along and provided a way to work around the whole needing a warrant, thing.

      And that’s just for phone calls and e-mails. This is a person’s blood. Not to mention, there is still a huge stigma associated with being HIV positive. If a doctor can test you without your knowledge, could they then refuse to see you out of fear or principle? And then how would you know you’d been discriminated against if you’d never been told you were even going to be tested?

      As for the argument about the safety of doctors, nurses, etc…their job is to be around sick people, and yes, potentially come into contact with contaminated blood and other bodily fluids. Not just with HIV, but with pretty much every other illness out there. So they do what they can to protect themselves, but testing everyone for HIV isn’t going to make them any safer. They’re still going to be around those people…and there are still plenty of other illnesses that we don’t test for without consent.

      “And it would totally work if we lived in a world where everyone made objectively good decisions all the time.”

      No, we don’t. But we do live in a world (or rather, a country if you’re talking about the U.S. and much of Europe), where people are allowed to make really stupid decisions. People do make stupid decisions…and the only way to prevent that from happening is to take away the ability to make any decisions. But then we’re left with a totalitarian state, and that usually doesn’t go so well.

      In fact, I wonder if the reason that HIV is being singled out is because of the stigma still associated with it. Hepatitis B & C are blood-borne illnesses and yet we’re not testing for them. There are a myriad of other STIs that are more common than HIV, and yet we’re not testing for them. Why? Because it’s an invasion of privacy.

  4. I truly believe…(and conspiracy theorize) this is all an issue brought on ultimately by Insurance Companies, and Big Pharma. Its a great thought that HIPPAA laws are in place to protect us but in reality does that truly happen? Do I truly believe noone can access those records? Not for a second. Why are employers getting involved in medical issues if that is not the case. If they were enforced, the insurance companies wouldn’t concern themselves with pre-existing conditions, and the employers wouldn’t care who was on birth control. 45 Years ago we didn’t live in as litigious, and greedy society as we do today and while none of us may remember waivers being signed I’d bet our parents did sign some sort of waiver, not only based on the tuberculosis, but because some vaccinations and boosters were mandatory.

    I have seen the results of this. As one living with a potentially life threatening illness, with a very expensive treatment required, I do not find it a mystery why months into a diagnosis that required treatment and consolations by the employer, I was laid off. Saved someone an awful lot of money.

    HIV is only one target here. Truth be known there are other illnesses that get a lot less attention and are as deadly. Hepatitis in its variations for example. The percentage of those with the HCV virus are equally as likely to be undiagnosed, and while “Get Tested” efforts in the UK, and Europe have fared well, I am not so sure our system will allow for those efforts in such a politically charged and profit centered environment. Perhaps they shouldn’t have fought so hard here to make sure noone got condoms or clean syringes ?

  5. Testing of HIV is meaningless if cure is not found. enough awareness has been launched. i believe it is time to set up laboratories to find the medicine for cure instead of wasting Government money on testing. once the vaccine is found, everyone will come forward to make a free HIV world. why should one know his/her HIV status and live a meaningless life when there is no cure. WHO should take initiative to bringing out vaccine at the earliest for free HIV world. Set up research centres and laboratory, spend on those areas. one monkey has created all this troubled, be human to solved it.

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