Congress Urged To Pay More Attention To Public’s Right Of Protection
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawyers and health workers urged Congress on Tuesday to pay more attention to the public’s right of protection from AIDS rather than focusing on the civil rights of AIDS victims and carriers.
″I don’t think civil rights laws are an appropriate vehicle to handle something like AIDS,″ Minneapolis attorney Roger Magnuson told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.
″There is an obvious difference between protecting people who are no danger to public health and those who carry a dangerous disease,″ said Magnuson. ″AIDS is the enemy, and AIDS has no civil rights.″
He and others said traditional civil rights bills protect people from discrimination on the basis of race, sex and handicaps that pose no threat to public health. Once AIDS carriers and victims are given protection, said Magnuson, other contagious diseases may follow ″and we’re on a very slippery slope.″
At issue are various AIDS bills sponsored by subcomittee chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. William Dannemeyer, R-Calif.
The Waxman bill, supported by many medical groups, would expand voluntary testing and counseling, require confidentiality of test results and protect those who test positive against discrimination. The Dannemeyer bills, among other things, would mandate reporting of cases and testing of certain population groups.
Dannemeyer, in a written opening statement, called the Waxman bill ″a surreptitious means of furthering the civil rights agenda of a select group and not the much needed federal solution to the AIDS crisis.″
The bill ″seeks to further a social agenda at the cost of endangering the lives of potential victims,″ Dannemeyer said in his statement. ″It accords unlimited rights to the infected ... while failing to assess any responsibilities. The rights of the uninfected ... must also be considered.″
Public health should prevail whenever the rights of the public and the AIDS victim conflict, Waxman said at one point in the hearing. But when those rights don’t conflict except in people’s minds, he asked, ″how do we keep people from overreacting to the fear of AIDS?″
Dr. Allan Salzberg, chief of medicine at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Miles City, Mont., said the Waxman bill would impede efforts to pinpoint AIDS carriers, determine the extent of the problem and contain the epidemic.
He proposed testing of sexually active people on a yearly basis, starting in their teens and continuing until about age 50. That approach would be the least discriminatory, he said.
Based on mathematical projections, Salzberg said, his plan would lead in the year 2005 to 4.4 million people dead or sick from AIDS, 1.8 million carriers and an average annual direct cost of $20 billion.
With a do-nothing approach, Salzberg said, his projections put the toll that year at 25 million sick or dead, 40 million carriers and a direct cost of nearly $120 billion.
Salzberg also advocated the testing of hospital patients and said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration should protect health workers.
″The hospital personnel in my area are scared even though we are in an extremely low-risk area,″ he said. ″This will affect care. People are loath to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.″
Ilene C. Adelman, a nurse at the Washington Hospital Center, said health care workers should be able to make their own decisions about when to wear protective garments and should be told if a patient carries the AIDS virus. She objected to confidentiality provisions barring a doctor from passing that information to a nurse.
″This is outrageous,″ she said. ″I have every right to know.″
Magnuson said testing bills should stress not confidentiality but ″the moral obligation to come forward″ and be tested.
″The moral obligation is there, but they risk everything,″ Waxman replied. He said people are unlikely to come forward under those circumstances - which is why confidentiality and anti-discrimination protections are needed.