HIV and the law
HIV status has complex implications for doctors, patients, and third parties. Emma Yeoman navigates the murky legal waters
The procedures for testing and imparting information about HIV status are intrinsically linked to the doctor's duty of confidentiality. The implications of HIV status are complex and involve people besides the patient, such as doctors and people to whom the virus may have been transmitted.
Despite serious implications for the health and privacy of those involved, UK law on HIV status and confidentiality remains unclear in several areas. These include consent for testing, the conflict between medical confidentiality and disclosure of status, and intentional transmission. Provisions throughout the world and even within countries vary considerably and some of the differences to the system in the United Kingdom will be discussed.
Consent is necessary before blood can be taken from a patient. This is true for any test, whether checking for anaemia or HIV. The approach in the UK is that tacit consent to blood tests allows the doctor to carry