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Debate Rages over firing of HIV infected health care workers

When we flip through the news papers it isn’t uncommon for us to see news items which tell us that an employee has been fired from an establishment after testing positive for HIV. But rarely do these matters become a major controversy when many sit up and take notice. Especially in the health care industry people don’t bat an eyelid when someone is fired because of ones HIV serostatus. Many nurses and doctors and allied health personnel are politely (at times rudely) asked to stay away from work once it is known that they have the dreaded virus. In one issue of “INDIA TODAY” it was reported that a high profile bank officer was asked to leave his job when he was detected to be HIV positive and he was detected to be negative on subsequent testing. He however couldn’t handle the trauma and is now mentally disturbed and on psychiatric treatment.

In the U.S.A. a curious case is being played out in the courts where a HIV infected health care worker is contesting his firing from work due to his HIV positive sero status. In 1997, dental hygienist Spencer Waddell's physician informed his employer of his seropositive HIV status. The employer, Dr. Eugene Witkin of Valley Forge Dental Associates in Atlanta, fired Waddell. Not to take things lying down Waddell contested the decision in the court of law. A lower court dismissed Waddell's lawsuit, concluding that he posed a significant risk of HIV transmission to patients. But the matter is snowballing into a major ethics issue and Waddell has moved a higher court and is seeking justice!

"The fact that very reputable professional organizations are concerned about science and the integrity of their positions takes away the notion that this is just a self-interested party arguing his case," attorney Stephen R. Scarborough, of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund's Atlanta office, who is representing Waddell, says. Scarborough said that this case is the first to follow the 1998 US Supreme Court decision in Bragdon versus Abb ott, which requires that decisions about whether healthcare professionals pose a significant risk of transmitting HIV to patients be scientifically based.

"It's particularly important to Waddell that he be evaluated based on his ability to practice well and safely rather than based on stereotypes or inflated concerns or irrational fears," Scarborough said. Among those supporting Waddell is Dr. Donald Marianos of Northern Arizona University, a participant in the development of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1991 protocol concerning the management of HIV-positive healthcare workers.

As the drama unfolds one hopes that justice is done and the verdict settles all confusions and prevents such issues from cropping up in future. But in such ethical issues as these, One can hardly delineate clearly the right and the wrong. But for the moment the ball is now in the Judges court!!!!

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