Hearing Explores Testing Patients for HIV Without Consent


 
 

Hillary Chabot | | Friday, September 28, 2007


BOSTON-- Lunenburg resident Darrell Demers had no idea what the gash to his hand would mean as he worked on a bloody car-accident victim in Fitchburg nearly two years ago.

It meant a drug regimen that left the paramedic in constant pain to prevent possible HIV infection.

It meant keeping his toothbrush away from his three young daughters and scrubbing the house with bleach if he cut himself.

"This whole insult to my body, my emotional well-being and my family could have been avoided with simple blood tests," Demers said at a hearing at the Statehouse yesterday.

The patient was in a coma, and unable to give consent required by state law. A bill filed by Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, would allow blood testing of the patient if others could have been infected by them.

Demers, 39, said he worries about getting infected or having to go through the month-long treatment and year-long waiting period which accompanies a possible exposure to HIV every time he responds to a new emergency. He testified about the bill at a hearing in front of the Committee on Public Health yesterday.

"I have been a public servant my whole life. I am a loving husband and devoted family man," Demers said, his voice breaking.

"I do not want to see any other public servant or health-care worker go through what I went through," he said.

But due to the six-month incubation period of HIV, those placed at risk could be infected even if the HIV test results are negative, argued Denise McWilliams, public policy director at AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

"This is one of those unfortunate situations where technology has not caught up with people's needs," McWilliams said. "At this point the test doesn't really give you all the information you need to make a decision."

Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, is concerned about waiving consent for patients.

"Obviously we always want to push to make sure emergency workers are protected, but it's a pretty slippery slope once you waive consent," Golden said. "Maybe we should look at what else can be done to protect them, like some other type of glove out there that doesn't tear as easily."

Rep. Jen Flanagan, D-Leominster, who also testified, said "its important to understand we're not discriminating against any particular disease. What we're trying to do is make this right. "

Seventeen other states have similar laws, DiNatale said.


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