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Judge Puts Clamps on AIDS Testing in Alabama

October 8, 1993

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A federal judge struck down part of an Alabama law that allowed a doctor to test patients for AIDS without their permission simply because the doctor thought they were at risk.

U.S. District Judge Harold Albritton ruled Thursday that the 1991 law allowing AIDS tests under certain circumstances unfairly left the interpretation of ″high risk″ to doctors. The state failed to prove such testing for the HIV virus that causes AIDS ″would in any way curb the spread of the disease,″ the judge ruled.

The judge let stand the portion of the law that allows testing if the presence of the AIDS virus would alter the patient’s medical treatment or the patient’s HIV status was needed to be known to protect health care workers.

But he cautioned doctors against widespread testing of their patients. ″It should be understood that this does not mean that, since all patients may have some contact with health care personnel, blanket testing of patients without their knowledge is authorized,″ Albritton said.

He also ruled doctors can’t draw blood for an AIDS test, only test blood that has already been given.

Alabama was the first of 22 states with AIDS testing laws to have the statute challenged in federal court, according to the American Medical Association.

″The opinion was exactly what we wanted,″ said Wendy Crew, one of the lawyers who challenged the law. The suit was filed on behalf of Robert H. Hill, a 54-year-old single man who claimed he would be a victim of discrimination.

″We have gotten past high-risk groups,″ said Hill, an officer for the AIDS Task Force of Alabama. ″Everyone who is sexually active is at risk.″

Vic McLean, spokesman for the state medical association, said its officials were ″extremely pleased″ the judge upheld part of the law, but had not studied the ruling in detail.

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