The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would make it easier for a health-care worker to determine if a patient has exposed him to the AIDS virus, but no bill has been introduced so far that would allow patients to find out if their
doctors happen to have AIDS.
That, however, does not mean legislators will be spared debate of the controversial issue of doctors and nurses who have Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-City, said he expects the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, which he chairs, "will look at it."
"The patient should be protected from the provider of the services," he said.
Blount said he did not know how to provide such protection, however, since any proposal to test health-care workers for the human immunodeficiency (HIV) virus that causes AIDS is bound to be highly controversial.
The rights of both patients and health-care providers must be carefully weighed, he said.
Authorities last year reported the first probable case of doctor-to-patient transmission involving a Florida dentist with AIDS who apparently infected a woman during a dental procedure. Two other patients of that dentist may have contracted AIDS from the dentist, who has since died of AIDS.
In Baltimore, some former patients of Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, a Johns Hopkins Hospital breast surgeon, became frightened and angry after learning from news reports that he had died from AIDS. So far, however, none of Almaraz's patients have reported testing positive for the AIDS virus.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Balto. Co., said some lawmakers are waiting for the federal Centers for Disease Control to release guidelines this year on health-care professionals infected with the AIDS virus before introducing legislation on the issue.
Hollinger is the lead sponsor of a bill that would enable a health-care facility to ask a patient to take an AIDS test if a health-care provider has been exposed to the patient's bodily fluids, such as through an accidental needle stick. If the patient is comatose, dead or mentally unable to give his consent, then a relative could be asked for such consent, the bill states.
Should the patient be found to have AIDS, the exposed health-care worker could begin treatment and avoid infecting others, supporters of the bill say.
Hollinger said she planned to withdraw a controversial amendment requiring a health-care facility to seek a court injunction to force a patient to take an AIDS test if he refuses.
Several people turned out in Annapolis this week to oppose that amendment. Patrick McGaughan, a University of Maryland law student, cautioned senators against forcing patients to take an AIDS test. "If you get started down this slope, it gets very steep," he said. "People will say we don't want doctors with HIV treating us."
The Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS generally supports Hollinger's bill and a companion one filed in the House of Delegates.
Two other AIDS-related bills in the Senate have drawn less support. They include one that would require patients undergoing surgery to submit to AIDS testing and another that would require bodies sent to funeral homes to be labeled if the deceased had AIDS.