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Compassion and Fear Over AIDS

July 18, 1987

On June 23, a Los Angeles City Fire Co. and a paramedic rescue ambulance saved the life of a 23-year-old man who had been brutally assaulted. The victim was found semiconscious with multiple lacerations to the head. The paramedics and firefighters quickly stabilized the patient and he was transferred to Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles.

During treatment the patient accidentally spit blood into the eyes of one of the firefighters. Later the hospital reported that the patient is a homosexual, a drug user and that he tested positive for tuberculosis and syphilis. He was, however, specifically not tested for AIDS.

The hospital stated that public health laws allowed for the testing (with or without patient consent) for all contagious diseases with the one exception of AIDS. The patient refused to consent to an AIDS test. The patient's rights outweigh everyone else's rights when dealing with AIDS.

The chance of this firefighter contracting AIDS are remote, but he will undergo blood testing for the next six months. However, for the next six months he will carry a doubt. His relationship with his wife will change, his family life will change. All because one person's rights overshadow another person's rights.

We in the emergency services accept the inherent dangers of our careers. However, we have the right to the best protection available, whether it be the safest helmets, the best protective clothing, or the complete disclosure of all communicable disease exposures that we may encounter. Most important, we have the right to protect our families from these dangers.

The law must be changed to allow mandatory testing of any person for any suspected communicable disease when there is reasonable belief that that person is inflicted and when emergency or medical personnel may have been exposed.

CAPT. LARRY P. SCHNEIDER

Los Angeles City Fire Dept.

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