New bill would let doctors test for HIV without patient consent

(File Photo: screenshot)

A New York Democrat has sparked a debate amid concerns about a new bill that would allow doctors to test patients for HIV without their consent.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who has also introduced a bill aimed at getting President Trump’s New York taxes into the hands of Congress, sponsored the legislation, which is currently awaiting review in the Senate Health Committee, the New York Post reported.

(File photo: screenshot)

Supporters of the bill claim it would lead to a higher rate of HIV detection as, under an existing law which requires patients between ages 13 and 62 be offered the test by their doctor, lack of time and other factors – including the uncomfortable nature of the subject – have meant doctors have not always followed through with discussing the testing with patients.

“I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t get tested but wished they had, because they not only may have unknowingly passed the virus on, but their well-being suffered, too,” Hoylman, a Democrat representing Manhattan and touting himself as a “gay dad” and “public school parent” on Twitter, said. “It’s better to know your HIV status.”

But opponents of the bill say it misses the mark, placing the burden on patients to get informed about the fact that they could be tested without their consent while also creating an invasion of privacy.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum opposes the bill which, despite its good intentions, is ultimately a “shortsighted” solution to a “much more complicated problem.”

“There’s no data to prove that removing consent will fix the problem,” he said, contending that the current law should suffice as long as medical professionals are disposed to taking the time to have the right conversations with their patients.

“Doctors are saying this is too time consuming, too much of an inconvenience . . . but they’ll talk [to patients] about smoking cigarettes, obesity, diet and hypertension,” he said. “These are issues that also take time.”

A staff attorney at the Center for HIV Law and Policy criticized the legislation for what it did not address.

“We want to know if doctors are offering the test and people are declining it. Or, if doctors aren’t offering the tests, maybe the solution requires training about medical practices,” Jacob Schneider said, noting that the bill is  “speculative” at best.

“It makes a big difference…if we don’t know which problem to solve how can we move forward with this legislation? It’s a violation of basic dignitary right to control and be aware of one’s medical treatment,” he added.

Democrat Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, was reportedly open to concerns brought to his attention by coalition members on the legislation, according to Schneider. The group is also reportedly trying to meet with Hoylman, who has also been the sponsor of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act and a bill aimed at making it harder for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to makes arrests at courthouses.

“Is testing everyone for HIV without their knowledge more important than letting people choose whether and when to get tested?” Schneider and Birnbaum wrote in a New York Post op-ed, noting that “we already have legal tools to increase the rate of HIV testing — if only the state would enforce them. And changing the law to take control away from patients could have disastrous consequences and erode trust in our health care system.”

They noted the idea of “informed consent” that has been part of the ethical standards for the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and New York’s Patients’ Bill of Rights.

“The state should enforce current testing law before letting doctors who ignore it off the hook and putting a tacit seal of approval on a substandard level of care,” they wrote. “Ending HIV in New York needs shared commitment and resources, not desperate policy changes unsupported by evidence and unlikely to succeed.”


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