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Reagan Backs Routine Testing for AIDS Virus : He Cites 'Moral Obligation,' Asks Examinations for Marriage Applicants, Drug Abusers, Inmates

June 01, 1987|MARLENE CIMONS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan, saying that "we have a moral obligation not to endanger others," Sunday declared his support for "routine" testing of individuals for infection with the AIDS virus, and called on the states to offer testing for marriage license applicants and to those seeking treatment in drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease clinics.

Further, Reagan announced that he will seek mandatory testing of federal prisoners, patients in veterans hospitals and immigrants and that he will ask the states to require testing in all state and local prisons. The federal government already is testing all military inductees and Foreign Service personnel for AIDS before they are given overseas assignments.

'Decency Requires It'

"As individuals, we have a moral obligation not to endanger others--and that can mean endangering others with a gun, with a car, or with a virus," Reagan told a fund-raising dinner sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research. "If a person has reason to believe he or she may be a carrier, that person has a moral duty to be tested for AIDS. Human decency requires it."

In advocating expanded "routine" testing, such as for marriage applicants, however, Reagan emphasized the right of the individual to refuse to take the test.

The President, in his second major speech on AIDS since April, denounced discrimination against AIDS patients, most of whom are homosexuals and intravenous drug users, saying: "We must prevent the persecution, through ignorance or malice, of our fellow citizens."

However, ignoring the recent recommendations of his own Public Health Service, Reagan failed to advocate stronger statutes to protect confidentiality of test results or to prohibit discrimination against infected or ill individuals, nor did he discuss the need for comprehensive counseling to accompany the testing procedure.

Scattered Hisses

The President drew scattered hisses and boos during his speech, particularly when he outlined his testing proposals and also when he described the level of federal spending for AIDS research, which many feel has been inadequate. But he was also interrupted frequently by applause.

In a report released several weeks ago, the federal Centers for Disease Control--reflecting the overwhelming consensus of federal and state public health officials--rejected the concept of mandatory testing and urged instead expansion of opportunities for voluntary testing, such as in drug abuse clinics and for high-risk women considering pregnancy. They further called on the federal government and the states to take aggressive action to ensure confidentiality of test information, including the development of new legislation. Also, they emphasized that testing should never544498027post-test counseling.

Counseling entails an explicit description of the behaviors that transmit the virus, such as unprotected anal and vaginal intercourse and the sharing of unsterilized hypodermic needles, and also involves explaining that the test determines only whether someone has been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS. A positive result does not mean an individual will contract the deadly disease. However, a person who tests positive is presumed to be infected and infectious to others.

Gay rights groups and others reacted angrily Sunday to the President's recommendations.

"He fails to recognize the impact of testing and the value of testing," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"If he is opposed to discrimination, then he must be willing to put the force of the federal government behind it," Levi continued. "If he wants people to choose to be tested, he must also guarantee confidentiality. And if he wants a testing program to be successful, then he must be willing to put the resources into the counseling that makes a testing program valuable."

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, however, who has strongly fought within the Administration against mandatory testing under any circumstances, and in favor of the individual's right to say no, praised the President's speech. "I can endorse it completely because of the fact that he has choice before he talks about marital testing," he said in an interview. "Routine does not mean mandatory. As long as the person can opt out, that's fine. Mandatory testing, with its false positives, could disrupt the lives of the very people we are trying to protect."

Koop, who until recently has been the one Administration spokesman on AIDS, added: "I feel the most comfortable about the President's leadership in this that I ever have."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Energy and Environment subcommittee on health, criticized the President for "reaching for quick fixes that all public health and medical authorities have agreed won't work."

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