Courts and medical experts responded to these arguments in the following ways:
1. “Treating People with HIV is Dangerous”
Doctors and dentists may claim that a refusal to treat a patient with HIV is legitimate because they fear they might contract HIV themselves through needlesticks or other exposures to blood. However, studies of health care workers have concluded that risk of contracting HIV from occupational exposure is minuscule, especially with the use of universal precautions.
For this reason, in 1998, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case Bragdon v. Abbott that health care providers cannot refuse to treat people with HIV based on concerns or fears about HIV transmission (524 U.S. 624 (1998)).
In addition to the legal perspective, both the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association and many other professional health care organizations have issued policies that it is unethical to refuse treatment to a person with HIV.
2. “Treating People with HIV Requires Special Expertise”
In these cases, the merits of a discrimination claim depend upon whether, based on objective medical evidence, the services or treatment needed by the patient require a referral to a specialist or are within the scope of services and competence of the provider.
In United States v. Morvant, a federal trial court rejected a dentist’s claim that patients with HIV require a specialist for routine dental care (898 F. Supp. 1157 (E.D. La 1995)). The court agreed with the testimony of experts who said that no special training or expertise, other than that possessed by a general dentist, is required to provide dental treatment to people with HIV. The court specifically rejected the dentist’s arguments that he was unqualified because he had not kept up with the literature and training necessary to treat patients with HIV. While this case arose in the context of dental care, it is applicable to other medical settings as well.