South Dakota: Panel Delays Action on HIV Records Release Bill
February 26, 2003
South Dakota health officials are seeking legal authority to alert prosecutors if they think someone is intentionally spreading HIV. HB1019 would also allow the state Health Department to release otherwise confidential HIV information to prosecutors if ordered to do so by judges, and to alert the attorney general or prosecutors if they suspect someone has intentionally exposed others to HIV without telling them. The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed action on HB1019 until Wednesday.Adapted from:
If the Health Department becomes aware of someone intentionally spreading HIV in the state, it has to notify authorities, said state Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth. "Protecting the public's health is our number one priority in the Health Department," Hollingsworth said. "There is potentially a greater public health risk if we're not able to provide that information to law enforcement in very, very rare circumstances."
By state law, doctors must report all instances of contagious diseases to the Health Department. But the department is not free to disclose the identities of those people.
Opponents of the measure said it would put the health department in the role of prosecutor. Patients might not be truthful with their doctors or may avoid HIV testing altogether because of confidentiality concerns, said Zita Lazzarini, a public health lawyer at the University of Connecticut Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. Officials should get a court order to release records, Lazzarini said. "Release should not be allowed at the discretion of public health officials alone," she said.
The proposal clarifies what the Health Department can do and would be used rarely, said Hollingsworth. "Our law is very, very clear of how confidential medical reports must be," she said. American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas Executive Director Jennifer Ring said, "I don't see anything in the bill [that] makes this a last alternative. It's the blurring of the line between the Health Department and prosecutors that is a real problem to us."
02.24.03; Elizabeth Pierce