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Court to decide if dentist can refuse patient with HIV

SHARE Court to decide if dentist can refuse patient with HIV

The Supreme Court case of a dentist found to have discriminated illegally against an HIV-infected woman could clarify the sweep of a federal law that protects disabled people's rights.

Maine dentist Randon Bragdon says he refused to fill Sidney Abbott's cavity while she was in his office because he believed a hospital setting would provide him better protection against the AIDS virus."The law should not compel every qualified dentist to provide the service," his lawyers said in papers filed in advance of arguments today before the high court. "Here is the space for civil liberty among dentists."

But lower courts agreed with Abbott that Bragdon violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against the disabled in jobs, housing and public accommodations.

Patients with HIV can be safely treated in dentists' offices, her lawyers said in court briefs, adding: "Health care providers are as susceptible as anyone else to the fears and stereotypes which accompany contagious diseases."

After today's arguments, the justices must decide whether HIV-infected people who do not yet suffer symptoms of AIDS are considered disabled.

If they are, Bragdon argues that dentists must be allowed to use their own judgment on how, or whether, to provide them routine treatment.