Supreme Court Says
Dentists Must Treat
AIDS Patients
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Supreme Court Monday let stand a ruling that a dentist violated a federal civil rights law by insisting that a patient with the virus that causes AIDS go to a hospital for treatment.
The court rejected without comment or dissent an appeal by a Maine dentist who was found to have discriminated against a patient with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) because he would fill her cavity in a hospital, but not in his office.
The justices declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that Dr. Randon Bragdon violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that protects the disabled from discrimination.
It marked the second legal setback for Bragdon before the nation's highest court in less than a year.
Bragdon refused in 1994 to treat Sidney Abbott, who has been infected with HIV since 1986, in his office in Bangor for fear that he would contract the AIDS virus.
Bragdon said that under his infectious disease policy he would fill her cavity only in a hospital because it would allow him to take additional precautions against being infected.
Although he would charge her his regular fee, she would have to pay the additional cost for use of the hospital facilities.
The Supreme Court in late June last year ruled that Abbott's HIV infection was a disability covered by the law, even though she had no symptoms of the AIDS disease.
But the justices sent the case back to the appeals court to reconsider whether the evidence in the record was sufficient to find that treating Abbott in his office would pose a direct threat to Bragdon's health and safety. The appeals court reaffirmed its earlier ruling and held that a dentist's performance of a cavity-filling procedure on a patient with the HIV virus did not pose a "direct threat" to the health and safety of others.
Bragdon's lawyer, John McCarthy, appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ruling was flawed and posed a conflict "with established norms of safety in other fields."
He said health care workers should not be required to confront greater risks than patients under the disabilities law and added, "The appeals court ignored evidence that universal precautions have never been shown to be effective against HIV."
But Bennett Klein, an attorney for a group called Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders in Boston, said on behalf of Abbott that the appeal should be turned down.
"Bragdon has had multiple opportunities to litigate the issued raised in this case," Klein told the Supreme Court. "There is no basis to reopen this case yet again."