A New York district judge has ruled that Springfield Medical Aesthetic, PC of Roslyn, New York, violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it denied breast-reduction surgery to three HIV-positive men in 2015. The lawsuit was initially filed by Mark Milano, and two other patients joined suit shortly after.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ruled that the doctors at Advanced Cosmetic Surgery of New York failed to adequately evaluate the medical facts of each individual case when they declined to perform surgery on each of the three patients involved in the suit due to their HIV diagnosis.
According to Torres, the onus was on the doctors to prove that "the application of any criteria screening out individuals with HIV was ‘necessary’," which, according to her ruling, they failed to do.
"The basic fact to underscore here was that there was no reason to not perform the surgery on any of these patients," says Dr. Ryan Mitchell, a plastic surgeon in Henderson, Nevada. "To refuse to operate on these patients due to their HIV-positive status was discriminatory at worst, and irresponsible at best."
That’s because, according to Mitchell and other experts, there is no valid reason to not perform surgery on HIV-positive patients.
"Legally, all surgeons must take precautions against blood-borne illness during surgery, whether the patient is HIV-positive or not," Mitchell says. "Those safeguards are for the surgeon as much as they are for the patient. Operating on a patient with HIV should not carry any higher risk as a patient without HIV if those safeguards are in place.
"So, aside from a risk to the patient, there is really no reason a procedure should be denied to an HIV-positive patient."
Mitchell says those risks could include a current illness or dangerous interaction with a medication, but those factors should be determined on an individual basis following review of the patient’s medical records, something that Torres ruled the doctors at Advanced Cosmetic Surgery failed to do.
"If the doctors in this case had reviewed the patients’ records and found something that would put these patients at an unnecessary risk by performing the surgery, it would be well within their right to refuse the operation. But just declining to operate because they have HIV is unethical, and a clear violation of the patients’ rights," Mitchell says.