Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (UPDATE 2000)
The Canadian Medical Association has developed the following general principles to serve as guidelines for various bodies, health care professionals and the general public. Specific aspects of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficency syndrome (AIDS) that relate to physicians' ethical responsibilities as well as society's moral obligations are discussed. Such matters include: the need for education, research and treatment resources; the patient's right to investigation and treatment and to refuse either; the need to obtain the patient's informed consent; the right to privacy and confidentiality; the importance of infection control; and the right to financial compensation in the case of occupational exposure to HIV.
Physicians should keep their knowledge of AIDS and HIV infection up to date.
Physicians should educate patients and the general public in the prevention of AIDS by informing them of means available to protect against the risk of HIV infection and to avoid further transmission of the virus.
Health authorities should maintain an active public education program on AIDS that includes the school population and such initiatives as public service announcements by the media.
All levels of government should provide resources for adequate information and education of health care professionals and the public on HIV-related diseases; research into the prevention and treatment of HIV infection and AIDS; and the availability and accessibility of proper diagnosis and care for all patients with HIV infection.
HIV antibody testing
Physicians have an ethical responsibility to recommend appropriate testing for HIV antibody and to care for their patients with AIDS or refer them to where treatment is available.
Physicians should provide counselling to patients before and after HIV antibody testing.
Because of the potential psychologic, social and economic consequences attached to a positive HIV test result, informed consent must, with rare exceptions, be obtained from a patient before testing. However, the CMA endorses informed mandatory testing for HIV infection in cases involving the donation of blood, body fluids or organs.
The CMA recognizes that people who have doubts about their serologic status may avoid being tested for fear of indiscretion and therefore supports voluntary non-nominal testing of potential HIV carriers on request.
The CMA supports the Canadian Blood Service and Hema-Québec in their programs of testing and screening blood donations and blood products.
Confidentiality in reporting and contact tracing
The CMA supports the position that cases of HIV infection should be reported non-nominally with enough information to be epidemiologically useful. In addition, each confirmed case of AIDS should be reported non-nominally to a designated authority for epidemiologic purposes.
The CMA encourages attending physicians to assist public health authorities to trace and counsel confidentially all contacts of patients with HIV infection. Contact tracing should be carried out with the cooperation and participation of the patient to provide maximum flexibility and effectiveness in alerting and counselling as many potentially infected people as possible.
In some jurisdictions physicians may be compelled to provide detailed information to public health authorities. In such circumstances, the CMA urges those involved to maintain confidentiality to the greatest extent possible and to take all reasonable steps to inform the patient that their information is being disclosed.
The CMA Code of Ethics (article 22) advises physicians that disclosure of a patient’s HIV status to a spouse or current sexual partner may not be unethical and, indeed, may be indicated when physicians are confronted with an HIV-infected patient who is unwilling to inform the person at risk. Such disclosure may be justified when all of the following conditions are met: the partner is at risk of infection with HIV and has no other reasonable means of knowing of the risk; the patient has refused to inform his or her sexual partner; the patient has refused an offer of assistance by the physician to do so on the patient's behalf; and the physician has informed the patient of his or her intention to disclose the information to the partner.
The CMA stresses the need to respect the confidentiality of patients with HIV infection and consequently recommends that legal and regulatory safeguards to protect such confidentiality be established and maintained.
Health care institutions and professionals should ensure that adequate infection-control measures in the handling of blood and body fluids are in place and that the rights of professionals directly involved in patient care to be informed of and protected from the risks of HIV infection are safeguarded.
The CMA does not recommend routine testing of hospitalized patients.
The CMA urges appropriate funding agencies to assess the explicit and implicit costs of infection control measures and to ensure that additional funds are provided to cover these extraordinary costs.
Occupational exposure and the health care professional
Health care workers should receive adequate financial compensation in the case of HIV infection acquired as a result of accidental occupational exposure.
Physicians and other health care providers with HIV infection have the same rights as others to be protected from wrongful discrimination in the workplace and to be eligible for financial compensation for work-related infection.
Physicians with HIV infection should consult appropriate colleagues to determine the nature and extent of the risk related to their continued involvement in the care of patients.
The CMA is pleased to have this opportunity to address the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. As a professional organization with a leadership role in societal issues affecting health, it is both appropriate and important for the CMA to be actively involved in addressing the problems associated with violence. The extremely high incidence of abuse, the associated severe physical, mental and psychological health problems and the significant role played by physicians in recognizing and caring for victims make this a priority for organized medicine.
The CMA has significant experience and expertise in this field. In 1984, the CMA General Council passed a resolution stating:
"That Health and Welfare Canada and the Provincial Ministries of Health and Education
alert the Canadian public to the existence of family violence, including wife assault, child
abuse, and elder abuse, and to the services available which respond to these problems,
and that organized medicine (through such vehicles as professional journals, newsletters,
conferences and formal medical education) alert the physicians of Canada to the problem
and that all physicians learn to recognize the signs of family violence in their daily contact
with patients and undertake the care and management of victims using available
community resources." (Resolution #84-47)
The CMA calls the Panel's attention to four major areas of concern: Recognition and Treatment, Education and Training, Protocol Development and Research.
1. Recognition and Treatment:
Recognition includes acknowledging the existence and prevalence of abuse and identifying
victims of violence. Violence against women is clearly a health issue and one that should be given a very high priority. Statistics indicate that nearly one in eight Canadian women will be subject to spousal violence in her lifetime and that one in five will be a victim of sexual assault. Violence against women is a major determinant of both short -and long-term health problems including traumatic injury, physical and psychological illnesses, alcohol/drug addiction and death. Furthermore, although it is critically important to recognize that abuse crosses all racial and socio-economic boundaries, there are strong indications that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to abusive acts (e.g., pregnant, disabled and elderly women).
Recognition includes acknowledging and understanding the social context within which violence occurs. Violence is not an isolated phenomenon, but is part of the much broader issue of societal abuse of women.
Physicians are often the first point of contact for patients who have been abused physically, sexually, mentally and/or psychologically. They have a vital role to play in identifying victims and providing treatment and supportive intervention including appropriate referral. Abuse is not always readily apparent, however, and may go undetected for extended periods of time. Numerous studies have shown that both physicians and patients often fail to identify abuse as an underlying cause of symptoms. Such delays can result in devastating and sometimes fatal consequences for patients. Even in those cases where abuse is apparent, both physicians and patients often feel uncomfortable talking openly about the abuse and the circumstances surrounding it. It is the physician's role and responsibility to create a safe and supportive environment for the disclosure and discussion of abuse.
Furthermore, the lack of resources for support services or the lack of awareness of what services are available to provide immediate and follow-up care to patients in need may discourage physicians from acknowledging the existence of abuse and identifying victims. It is clear that improvement in the ability and the degree to which victims of abuse are recognized and given appropriate assistance by physicians and other caring professionals in a non-threatening environment is urgently required.
Individuals who are abused usually approach the health care system through primary contact with emergency departments or other primary care centres. The care available in such settings is acute, fragmented and episodic. Such settings are not appropriate for the victims of violence.
The challenge that we, as physicians, recognize is to be able to provide access in a coordinated way to medical, social, legal and other support services that are essential for the victim of violence. This integration of services is essential at the point of initial recognition and contact. The CMA has been involved with eight other organizations in the Interdisciplinary Project on Domestic Violence (IPVD), the primary goal of which is to promote interdisciplinary co-operation in the recognition and management of domestic violence.
2. Education and Training: The spectrum of abuse is complex; the victims are diverse; expertise in the field is developing. The current system of medical education neither provides health care personnel with the knowledge or skills nor does it foster the attitude to deal adequately with this issue. Some of CMA's divisions have played an active role in this area. For instance, the Ontario Medical Association has developed curriculum guidelines and medical management of wife abuse for undergraduate medical students. It is ,important that there be more involvement by relevant medical groups in developing educational and training programs and more commitment from medical educators to integrate these programs and resources into the curriculum.
Programs must be developed and instituted at all levels of medical education in order that physicians can gain the requisite knowledge and skills and be sensitive to the diversity of victims of violence.
The CMA believes that the educational programs must result in: 1) understanding of the health consequences of violence; 2) development of effective communication skills; and, 3) understanding of the social context in which violence occurs.
Understanding of the social context in which violence occurs will require an examination of the values and attitudes that persist in our society, including a close consideration of the concepts of gender role socialization, sexuality and power. This is required in order to dispel the pervasive societal misconceptions held by physicians and others which act as barriers to an effective and supportive medical response to patients suffering the effects of violence.
3. Development of Protocols: The CMA recognizes the need for more effective management and treatment of the spectrum of problems associated with violence against women. Health care facilities, professional organizations and other relevant groups are challenged to formulate educational and policy protocols for integrated and collaborative approaches to dealing with prevention of abuse and the management of victims of violence.
The CMA and a number of its divisions have been active in this area:
In 1985, the CMA prepared and published Family Violence: Guidelines for Recognition and Management (Ghent, W.R., Da Sylva, N.P., Farren, M.E.), which dealt with the signs and symptoms, assessment and management, referral assistance and medical records with respect to wife battering, child abuse and abuse of the elderly;
The Ontario Medical Association published Repons on Wife Assault in January 1991. This document, endorsed by the CMA, examines the problem of wife assault from a medical perspective and outlines approaches to treatment of the male batterer and his family;
The Medical Society of Nova Scotia has developed a handbook entitled Wife Abuse: A Handbook for Physicians, advising on the identification and management of cases involving the battering of women;
The New Brunswick Medical Society has produced a series of discussion papers on violence and in conjunction with that province's Advisory Council on the Status of Women, has produced a graphic poster depicting physical assault on pregnant women as a way of urging physicians to be alert for signs of violence against women;
The Medical Society of Prince Edward Island has worked cooperatively with the provincial Department of Health and Social Services and the Interministerial Committee on Family Violence to produce a document entitled Domestic Violence: A Handbook for
The CMA encourages continued involvement by the medical profession in the development of initiatives such as these and welcomes the opportunity to work in collaboration with other professionals involved in this area.
4. Research The CMA has identified violence against women as a priority health issue. Like rriany other areas in women's health, there is a need for research focusing on all aspects of violence and the associated problems. More specifically, the CMA maintains that there should be more research on the incidence of abuse (particularly as it relates to particular groups), on ways to facilitate the disclosure by victims of abuse and on the effectiveness of educational and prevention programs.
The CMA recognizes that the medical profession must show a greater commitment to ending abuse of women and providing more appropriate care and support services to those who are victims of violence. The CMA possesses unique skills and expertise in this area and welcomes the opportunity to work with the Panel on this challenging social and health problem.