HIV Exceptionalism, CD4+ Cell Testing, and Conscientious Subversion
Journal of Medical Ethics 2005 June; 31(6): 322-326
In recent years, many states in the United States have passed legislation requiring laboratories to report the names of patients with low CD4 cell counts to their state Departments of Health. This name reporting is an integral part of the growing number of "HIV Reporting and Partner Notification Laws" which have emerged in response to recently revised guidelines suggested by the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Name reporting for patients with low CD4 cell counts allows for a more accurate tracking of the natural history of HIV disease. However, given that this test is now considered to be an "indicator" of HIV, should it be subject to the same strict consent required for HIV testing? While the CDC has recommended that each state develop its own consent requirements for CD4 cell testing, most states have continued to rely on the presumed consent standards for CD4 cell testing that were in place before the passage of name reporting statutes. This allows physicians who treat patients who refuse HIV testing to order a CD4 cell blood analysis to gather information that is indicative of their patient's HIV status. This paper examines the ethical and legal issues associated with the practice of "conscientious subversion" as it arises when clinicians use CD4 cell counts as a surrogate for HIV testing.
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