Leading Medical and Public Health Professionals Support ADA Protections for People with HIV

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Lambda and Whitman-Walker discuss first HIV case before the U.S. Supreme Court
March 30, 1998


Whitman-Walker Legal Clinic

(NEW YORK Monday, March 30) -- Major medical and public health experts, including professional dental organizations, are urging the United States Supreme Court to rule that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with HIV.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Whitman-Walker Legal Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of the groups in Bragdon v. Abbott, the first ADA as well as HIV-related case to go before the High Court.

The lawyers will meet with the media outside the courthouse after the argument, Monday, March 30.

Prior to the hearing, the attorneys released statements from the medical and public health groups and their own organizations -- Lambda, the leading lesbian and gay legal organization, and Whitman-Walker, a medical and legal services provider based in Washington, D.C.

"It is fitting that the Supreme Court's first case involving the Americans With Disabilities Act involves a person with HIV," said Lambda AIDS Project Director Catherine Hanssens, who is counsel of record for the 16 groups and individuals who joined the brief by Lambda and Whitman-Walker. "Overblown fears and myths cause horrible discrimination against people with HIV and block their access to basic services and care," she said.

Said Lambda attorney Heather Sawyer, who helped write the medical and public health groups' brief, "Intense hostility to gay men and other individuals with AIDS has fueled an epidemic of discrimination. Congress passed the ADA with that epidemic in mind."

Daniel Bruner, co-author of the brief and Whitman-Walker's senior litigation counsel, said, "Unfortunately, HIV discrimination in medical care still is a frequent occurrence, even in a major metropolitan area in the 1990's. As treatments advance and HIV becomes a long-term, more manageable illness, it will become even more critical to assure persons living with HIV access to the same medical and dental care that is available to others. We hope that the Supreme Court will recognize that through the ADA, Congress intended to outlaw discrimination based on stigmatization and unreasonable fears of infection, whether in the workplace or in the doctor's office."

American Association of Dental Schools Executive Director Dr. Richard W. Valachovic, D.M.D., commented, "Dental education institutions, which are at the forefront of treatment and research for people living with HIV and AIDS, would be greatly disturbed with a court decision that allows general dentists to blatantly refuse treatment to such patients, when it is well within the scope of their dental training."

American Public Health Association Executive Director Mohammad Akhter, M.D., M.P.H. said, "HIV is the continuing subject of serious discrimination in our health care system and elsewhere, and the failure to eradicate this discrimination has consequences that undermine essential public health goals, such as identifying and treating persons with infectious disease, and keeping them linked with other public health efforts related to the prevention of further disease transmission."

Chris Burch, executive director of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, noted the potential impact far beyond this case: "If the ADA is read to allow health care professionals in private practice to refuse to treat patients on the basis of unfounded fears of those patients' conditions, the consequent burden on public hospitals who reject this kind of discrimination could tax an already-strained system."

Other organizations represented by Lambda and Whitman Walker in their brief to the Supreme Court include the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, the American Nurses Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals; six individual medical experts also joined the brief.

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Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585, ext 230/888-987-1984


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