Hospitals in Shanghai began checking all patients late last year for blood-transmitted diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis B, before performing surgery on them.
The idea was to protect doctors and nurses, but no one bothered telling the patients.
Officials at hospitals around the city admit they never told patients about the tests out of fear many would refuse to cooperate.
"If we inform patients about the test, many of them will refuse to take it," said Li Jin, an official from Renji Hospital, noting that just the idea of an AIDS test makes people uncomfortable.
Legal experts say patients should be told about every procedure performed on them.
"Hospitals and patients should enjoy the same rights. They are the two parties of a contract. Patients should know what kind of tests and treatments doctors use on them," said Liu Chunquan, a local attorney. By law, however, patients in China enjoy very few rights, as there are no regulations on what hospitals must tell them.
"I had no idea about the test. No one told me about it," said Zhang Jinseng, who underwent surgery last year following a traffic accident. "If it is a rule for every patient, I will obey it."
Zhang did admit that he might refuse to take a blood test if the hospital asked his permission.
Local health authorities published a rule last year requiring hospitals to perform the tests on any patient who might need a blood transfusion during surgery.
"Doctors and nurses face risks during surgery if the patient is an HIV carrier or has AIDS. When treating the patient, the hospital also should ensure staff safety," said Song Guofan, a spokesman for the Shanghai Health Bureau.
He refused to comment when asked if patients have the right to know about the tests.
Hospital officials stand behind the tests, secret or otherwise, saying the safety of their doctors is priority number one.
Li recalled that doctors at Renji helped a migrant woman deliver a baby last year before discovering she had the HIV virus.
"So the surgeon had to leave his position and undergo testing for several months," Li said.
Li noted that hospitals won't refuse to perform surgery on those with AIDS or other blood diseases, they will just be more careful about disinfection.
(Shanghai Daily February 25, 2004)