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Wisconsin Advocacy Group Files Lawsuit Against Medical Clinic for Allegedly Refusing to Perform Surgery on HIV-Positive Woman

February 17, 2009

AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin on Thursday filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee against a Fond du Lac, Wis., medical clinic for allegedly refusing to perform surgery on an HIV-positive woman, the AP/Chicago Tribune reports. The suit alleges that the defendants in the case -- Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, Agnesian HealthCare and physician Steven Cahee -- violated state and federal laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, when they denied gallbladder surgery to Melody Rose, an HIV-positive inmate at a state prison, after learning her HIV status.

According to the suit, prison physicians referred Rose to Cahee for the surgery because of "increasingly frequent pain" and additional medical problems. The suit adds that Cahee said he would not operate "because he was concerned Rose might infect him and/or his surgical team." Rose received the surgery in June 2008 by a surgical team at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, according to the lawsuit.

Shelly Haberman, a spokesperson with Agnesian Health, in a statement said the lawsuit's allegation of discrimination has no merit. She also said ARCW can "confirm that Agnesian HealthCare policies do, and always have, comply with state and federal requirements for treating individuals with disabilities" and that the clinic provides care to "patients [with] all types of disabilities and diseases, including HIV." However, Peter Kimball, director of legal services at ARCW, said, "Discrimination in health care remains a major problem for people living with HIV." Scott Schoettes, an attorney with civil rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, said Cahee's decisions "fly in the face of ethical behavior" for a medical professional, adding that CDC has "established that using universal precautions, which are required in all sorts of medical situations, including surgeries, makes it extremely unlikely for [HIV] to be transmitted in this setting" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 2/12).

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