From the Georgetown/Johns Hopkins Program on Law and Public Health, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Md (Mr Gostin). Mr Webber is in private practice in Philadelphia, Pa.
Health Law and Ethics section editors: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, the
Georgetown/Johns Hopkins University Program on Law and Public Health, Washington,
DC, and Baltimore, Md; Helene M. Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA .
The AIDS Litigation Project has reviewed nearly 600 reported cases involving
individuals with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired
immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the federal and state courts in the United
States between 1991 and 1997. Cases were identified through a federal and
50-state computer and library search. An important subset of litigation relates
to HIV/AIDS in the public health and health care systems, since the law affects
health care institutions and professionals, patients, and public health policy
in America. This subset of HIV/AIDS litigation includes testing and reporting;
privacy, the duty to warn, and the right to know; physician standards of care
in prevention and treatment; and discrimination and access to health care.
In broad terms, the review demonstrates a reliance on voluntary testing and
protection of patient privacy through HIV-specific statutes and the common
law. Negligence with potential civil and criminal liability has been alleged
in cases of erroneous or missed diagnosis of HIV infection. In the first AIDS
case to be considered by the Supreme Court, the Court will decide whether
patients with asymptomatic HIV infection are protected under the Americans
With Disabilities Act. Considerable progress has been made, both socially
and legally, during the first 2 decades of the epidemic, but much still needs
to be accomplished to protect privacy, prevent discrimination, and promote
Gostin LO, Webber DW. HIV Infection and AIDS in the Public Health and Health Care SystemsThe Role of Law and Litigation. JAMA. 1998;279(14):1108-1113. doi:10.1001/jama.279.14.1108