Wasting little time, the state medical society yesterday denounced Gov. William Donald Schaefer's call for the mandatory testing of many health-care workers and patients for the AIDS virus, calling it a pointless move that plays into unfounded public fears.
The medical society first went on record two years ago opposing any mandatory testing for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. But Dr. Marvin Schneider, chairman of the group's governing council, said that the society decided to respond to the governor's statements Monday that he hopes to make widespread testing the law of Maryland.
In a four-page rebuttal, the society's leadership said that mandatory testing was unjustified because there has yet to be a documented case of a physician transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to a patient. Testing would cost millions of dollars, the leaders said, at a time when real health needs aren't being met.
"We've got a major crisis out there in terms of AIDS," said Dr.
Schneider, a Silver Spring internist. "We've got thousands of cases of HIV positivity in this state, people who can't get [the drug] AZT, people for whom we can't get the rudiments of education.
"In this country there are 650 new transmissions of AIDS every day and, to date, we haven't gotten one case of a physician who has transmitted AIDS to a patient."
The medical society, officially called the Medical and Chirurgical Society of Maryland, represents approximately 7,000 doctors -- half the physicians practicing in Maryland.
Mr. Schaefer said that he will introduce legislation to require the testing of all health-care workers and patients involved in procedures thatare likely to pose a risk of transmission. Those procedures would probably include certain surgical and dental procedures but exclude emergency operations in which delaying treatment could cost patients their lives, according to Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini.
Paul E. Schurick, the governor's chief aide on health matters, said yesterday that Mr. Schaefer's commitment to treatment and education was "greater than ever before." But he added: "Testing is safeguarding and addressing the concerns of the public and health-care providers."
"The strong feelings of the public should not be ignored," Mr. Sabatini said, citing national surveys that have shown strong public support for the testing of health-care workers.
"I think we need to listen to Med-Chi and see if they have any other alternatives."
Public discussion about the potential dangers that patients face stems largely from revelations that a Florida dentist who died from AIDS last year apparently infected five of his patients. Federal investigators remain puzzled over how the transmissions occurred, but have speculated that he failed to sterilize his instruments properly.
Dr. Schneider said that he believes the official Med-Chi position reflects the opinion of most doctors, although some physicians interviewed by The Sun earlier this week said they welcomed the governor's proposal.
Next month, members will vote on protocols drawn up by the society's leadership. Under the protocols, testing of doctors would remain voluntary. Infected physicians would report to a panel of experts who would evaluate the physician and set limits on his or her practice.
The society drew up the protocols in response to a request by the General Assembly. If approved, the protocols could take the form of legislation -- setting up a possible showdown with Governor Schaefer and supporters of his plan.