Bragdon v. Abbott
Western International University
HRM 430 4092 – Employment Law
February 15, 2012
Professor Sandy White
Can a physician refuse or alter care of an HIV-positive patient without violating the equal treatment stipulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990? In the case of Bragdon v. Abbott, Ms. Abbott disclosed her HIV status to her dentist. Dr. Bragdon offered to treat Ms. Abbott at a local hospital. Dr. Bragdon believed that if he was going to provide a service to a patient and risk infection or even death, he should be allowed and even expected to take extra precautions. Ms. Abbott found his actions to be discriminatory. This case remains the founding case in HIV and disability law in its declaration that HIV is a disability and that discrimination is illegal.
Bragdon v. Abbott
“Some risks are acceptable but…” (Oyez Project, 1997). This is how the attorney representing Dr. Randon Bragdon began his hearing before the Supreme Court. The case began when Sidney Abbott visited her dentist’s office in order to have a cavity filled. Abbott disclosed that although she did not manifest any obvious symptoms she carried the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). When her dentist, Dr. Bragdon, refused to treat her in his office, offering instead to conduct any necessary work at a hospital for no extra charge other than use of the facilities, Abbott felt his policy as discriminatory (Cornell University, 1998). Can a physician refuse or alter care of an HIV-positive patient without violating the equal treatment stipulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA, 2005)? The District Court ruled in favor of Abbott, holding that HIV infection satisfied the ADA’s definition of disability. This landmark ruling helps protect more than one million people estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in the United States (CDC, 2011). Abbott’s HIV was classified as a disability according to the ADA definition because it substantially limited her major life activity of reproduction. The Supreme Court has ruled that the determination of whether a person has an ADA disability must take into consideration whether the person is substantially limited in performing a major life activity. “To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment (ADA, 2005).” You are probably asking what reproduction has to do with getting access to a dentist under the ADA. Abbott argued that she was a person with a disability because after she became infected with HIV she decided that she would not have children because of the risk of passing the virus on to others, and that her HIV infection substantially limited the major life activity of reproduction. The Supreme Court concluded that reproduction is a major life activity and that HIV substantially limited this major life activity because of the risk of infection to both the sexual partner and the child. According to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Dr. Bragdon had a written policy of refusing routine dental care to patients solely because they had tested positive for HIV (GLAD, 1998). Dr. Bragdon believed that if he was going to provide a service to a patient and risk infection or even death, he should be allowed and even expected to take extra precautions. It is important to note dentists are allowed to ask for a complete and accurate health history in order to provide appropriate care to their patients but using this information to deny services to persons with HIV is...
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