Policy & Politics
Massachusetts Legislature Considers Measure Allowing Exception in Confidentiality of HIV Test Results
January 15, 2004
The Massachusetts General Assembly's Joint Committee on Health Care last week held a hearing on a bill (SB 647) that would allow public health or safety officials who are exposed to a person's bodily fluid while working to learn whether the person is HIV-positive, the Providence Journal reports. Current state law requires hospitals and clinics to keep a patient's HIV status confidential. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Michael Morrissey (D), would create an exception that would allow firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and medical personnel who are scratched, bitten or pricked with a hypodermic needle while on duty to file a petition requesting to learn the patient's HIV status. Under the bill, the hospital or clinic performing the testing would not be liable for releasing test results. Some people at the hearing said that the bill would encroach on patient confidentiality, while others testified that the safety of medical workers should "trump" doctor-patient confidentiality, according to the Journal. Mary Ellen Jepsen, a nurse practitioner, called on legislators to vote against the bill, saying that it sends a "negative message" and that the risk of contracting HIV while caring for patients is "negligible." However, Roberta Wright, a registered nurse, said that she had to take up to 16 medications after accidentally being pricked by a needle used on a patient who refused HIV testing. She said that the incident was "above and beyond" her duties as a nurse. The state Department of Public Health has no position on the legislation, according to the Journal.
Other HIV/AIDS Policy Changes
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