WASHINGTON -- Doctors who know they are infected with the AIDS virus and who do not notify their patients should face fines of up to $10,000 and up to 10 years' imprisonment, according to a proposal that Sen. Jesse Helms introduced on the Senate floor yesterday.
"None of these should be treated any different than the criminal who guns down helpless victims in the street," said Mr. Helms, R-N.C.
His proposal disrupted the Senate yesterday, temporarily halting debate on an omnibus crime bill. When Senate leaders then called up a $19.6 billion Treasury and Postal Service appropriations bill in an effort to outflank Mr. Helms, he promptly reintroduced his amendment on that legislation.
And that, in turn, prompted a vow by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass, to filibuster the Treasury bill to stop Mr. Helms' amendment.
But the crime bill eventually passed, and congressional sources said they expected that Mr. Helms would get a vote on his amendment when debate resumes on the Treasury bill next week.
Mr. Helms' amendment would apply to any health care professional who tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus -- which causes acquired immune deficiency -- and who subsequently performed "intrusive" procedures on patients without disclosing the infection.
Mr. Helms' amendment put many senators in a no-win position politically. A "no" vote could be used by an opponent to show that a senator did not think AIDS-infected health care professionals should tell their patients. In June, a Gallup Poll said such disclosure by physicians and dentists was favored by 94 percent of Americans.
On the other hand, a vote for the amendment would anger AIDS activists and their supporters, as well as people concerned with privacy issues.