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Support for business partners of people with AIDS
Jul 25, 2000

Hi. I share an office with a woman who has AIDS. We are both massage therapists. I've been reading the questions and answers regarding health care workers obligations to disclose their status and as far as I can tell they don't have to. It also said that they are used to taking precautions to protect themselves from the virus. In the field of massage therapy, there are no "regulations or guidelines" to protect the therapist or client against the disease. I've talked to people I really respect in this field who think that it is ethically important to disclose AIDS status to the client. What are your thoughts on this? Also, do I need to be concerned about any legal liability if we become business partners and someone by chance sued her? Could anyone make a lawsuit against her for not telling them? This is really hard on our relationship both as friends and our business. I also feel like there is a lot of support and protection out there for people with AIDS which is good. But, I've been made to feel like my questions are "wrong" by some of the AIDS community. Someone at the AIDS resource center here questioned my friendship with her for having these concerns. I'm frustrated and wonder what neutral support is there to deal with my concerns?

Response from Ms. Gabriel

You are right -- a massage therapist does not have to disclose his/her HIV status to the client. You write that there are no regulations or guidelines to protect the therapist or client against the disease. What protects you from Hepatitis B or C? Both of these are much easier to transmit than HIV and using "universal" or "standard" precautions will protect from all three. These precautions mean using a barrier present -- this protects the client AND the massage therapist. Please check your policies regarding workplace exposure to blood. If you don't have one -- get one.

A good workplace HIV education program that includes information about Hepatitis is your best protection -- not only from these bloodborne pathogens, but from the disruptions and discrimination that often accompany the lack of information. Fortunately, in the workplace, this situation is not a matter of ethics, but law. The law says you must protect the confidentiality of medical information at work (for everyone not just people with AIDS), not an employees irrational fear.

The neutral support you are looking for comes in the form of a good HIV education program - one that is designed for the workplace. Check out the National AIDS Fund -- or The Positive Workplace websites to find out what is available.

I admire your concern for your co-worker, I just think you may be concerned about the wrong thing.

Lynne Gabriel

Ethics of AIDS disclosure for massage therapists
does an employer have to tell

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