HIV and Entrenched Social Roles: Patients' Rights vs. Physicians' Duties

Public Affairs Quarterly 8 (4):359-375 (1994)
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Physicians, so it will be argued have by virtue of their profession a weightier obligation than patients to disclose their HIV infection, and also have a duty to refrain from performing exposure-prone invasive procedures. This argument supports both the AMA and CDC guidelines on HIV infected health care workers (HCWS), while undermining the recommendations against disclosure suggested by the National Commission on AIDS (NCA). The argument is divided into three parts. First, a distinction is made between entrenched and fuzzy roles. Second, the physician-patient relationship is described as essentially fiduciary rather than businesslike or merely contractual. Third, the conflict between patients' and physicians' right to know is portrayed as one between patients' and physicians' right to life. Last, given the the probability of infection from seropositive patients to seronegative physicians, and, conversely, is roughly the same, it is recommended as a fair social policy that whenever an invasive procedure occurs, both physicians and patients have a duty to disclose any serious infection that may jeopardize their lives.

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Vicente Medina
Seton Hall University


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