I saw a liposuction doctor about removing my buffalo hump, but he said he did not do the procedure for HIVers. He referred me to another doc whom he said has more HIV experience. Can a doc refuse to treat HIVers?
The automatic referral of all HIVers, without individual evaluations and a credible scientific basis, is discrimination. Unless the liposuction doc can demonstrate that doing the procedure directly threatens his health—unlikely since standard precautions will insulate him from exposure to your blood—a flat refusal to treat is illegal.
Several recent lawsuits involving denied services—from hair transplants to neurosurgery—have settled in favor of rebuffed HIV patients. But even though referrals are frequently discrimination disguised as medical judgment, proving it can be tough. The law lets a doctor refer a patient if HIV creates complications legitimately outside that doctor’s expertise. For example, an inexperienced internist is doing you a favor by referring you to a seasoned HIV doctor to determine the best therapy for your med-resistant virus.
The issue here is whether your HIV truly requires more specialized management than the average lipo doctor possesses. Courts won’t second-guess legitimate medical opinion grounded in fact, but if your doctor is making unfounded assumptions about the relevance of HIV to his expertise and ability to operate, the referral is legally suspect.
To find a lawyer, try www.abanet.org/ AIDS/publications/aidsdirectory.pdf, a nat-ional directory of free HIV legal services, published by the American Bar Associ-ation’s AIDS Coordination Project; or try your local legal services office, a local AIDS service organization, or a national legal agency such as Lambda Legal or the ACLU.
Catherine Hanssens, JD, founded the Center for HIV Law and Policy. Her column offers general guidance and shouldn’t substitute for a lawyer’s counsel. Send your own legal queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.