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Pasadena Expected to Pass Anti-AIDS Discrimination Law

August 25, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — After two weeks of debate, the Board of Directors has given preliminary approval to an ordinance banning discrimination against victims of AIDS in housing, employment and education.

The board unanimously approved the measure Monday night and is expected to give final approval this evening.

But to win the support of all seven directors, the board delayed making a decision on a controversial section of the measure that would have made it illegal for medical workers to refuse treatment to an AIDS victim.

Opponents of the ordinance, many of whom found out about the proposal from radio broadcasts on religious stations throughout the region, argued the section would force doctors, nurses and dentists to accept an increased risk of infection.

Task Force Formed

To resolve the complaints, the board formed a "blue-ribbon task force" of medical experts to continue studying the issues.

"We're not backing away from discrimination in the medical field, but turning to a task force to guide us with the proper language for an ordinance," said Director Rick Cole.

The seven-member task force will include Betty-Jean Prosser, the city's health coordinator, and Allen W. Mathies Jr., president of Huntington Memorial Hospital.

The task force will report back to the board in 45 days.

Supporters of the ordinance had mixed reactions to the pared-down ordinance and the creation of the task force.

'Wrong Message'

Jim Dionisio, a member of the city's AIDS Community Coordinating Committee, said he was pleased at the passage of the ordinance but disappointed that action was delayed on banning discrimination in medical treatment.

He said he considered it one of the most critical aspects of the proposal, and the delay "sent out the wrong message."

"It's a first step and it's in the right direction," he said. "Let's hope they start running with it."

Opponents of the measure also had mixed feelings.

Cathy Kay, who organized a protest against the ordinance last week, said she believes the ordinance is morally wrong and poses a danger to the public's health.

But she said she was glad that at least the board agreed to continue studying the effects of such an ordinance on health care workers.

"The whole thing has been worth it just to open their eyes," she said.

Kay said she and others are considering launching a drive for a citywide referendum to defeat the ordinance.

The passage of the ordinance makes Pasadena one of nine areas in the state that have banned discrimination against victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The other areas are Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Diego County, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.

The Pasadena ordinance, which was modeled after the one passed three years ago in Los Angeles, will make it illegal to refuse housing, employment, education or business services to victims of AIDS.

The ordinance will also provide protection to those who have been in close contact with AIDS victims, such as family members.

A violator could be jailed for six months and fined up to $1,000.

Religious organizations are exempted from the ordinance. Exemptions are also allowed if it can be proved that discrimination is necessary to protect the safety of the public.

Tim Brick, a member of the AIDS Community Coordinating Committee, said the ordinance allows local authorities to take quick action against discrimination.

A woman who said she has AIDS and who would give only her first name, Catherine, said her doctor refused to treat her after learning of her disease.

She chastised opponents of the ordinance who she said were trying to hide their bigotry behind a facade of Christian morality and public-health concerns.

"As flawed humans beings, we often hide a bad motive under a good motive," she said.

Opponents of the measure, however, say the ordinance fosters reverse discrimination that puts the "rights of the infected above those of the uninfected."

At Monday's hearing, the board heard from four medical experts who testified on the effects of the ordinance on health workers.

The experts included Mathies; Dr. Lorraine Day, chief of orthopedic surgery at San Francisco General Hospital; Judith Ross, associate director of medical ethics at UCLA, and Bob Frangenberg, head of the Los Angeles County Health Department's AIDS program.

Day said medical workers stand a higher risk of infection and urged the rejection of an ordinance that would force them to accept more risk.

She added that understanding of the disease is constantly changing and it could be transmitted in ways that are now unknown.

"Persons who are not a hazard to others should be allowed to remain in their jobs, but information about those hazards is changing rapidly, certainly far more rapidly than laws can be adjusted," she said.

Ross argued that medical workers have an ethical responsibility to treat AIDS victims.

She said they can protect themselves by using a variety of standard precautions such as wearing protective gloves, masks and eye wear and treating all blood or tissue samples as if they were infectious.

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