Officials from the Ministry of Health have called for more attention to the protection of the right to privacy of HIV/AIDS patients, following a court ruling that a hospital damaged a patient's reputation by releasing false HIV-related information about her.
The Xinzhou Intermediate People's Court of Shanxi Province rejected the appeal of the Xinzhou Prefectural People's Hospital against the original ruling by a district court, in the country's first such case.
The Xinfu District Court of the city accepted the case last August and ordered the hospital to publicly apologize to the plaintiff, Yu Meifang, and pay her 20,000 yuan (US$2,400) in compensation for the anguish and humiliation she suffered.
Yu, a 41-year-old retailer who sold goods in the Xinzhou Shopping Center, sued the hospital for damaging her reputation by releasing false HIV-related information about her.
In February 2000, Yu went to the orthopedics section of the hospital for treatment. A doctor from the hospital tested her blood and suspected her of being HIV-positive. The hospital separated her from other patients immediately and informed both the Xinzhou Epidemic Prevention Station and the shopping center. Yu went to the Beijing 301 Hospital in March for testing and found out she was in fact HIV-negative. She then took the case to the Xinfu District Court and won a judgment against the hospital.
However, the hospital continued to maintain that it had not damaged the reputation of the plaintiff and appealed to the intermediate court. Finally the intermediate court affirmed the original judgment of the district court, saying the hospital and the epidemic prevention station had, indeed, spread false information about Yu's HIV/AIDS diagnosis and damaged her reputation.
An official with the district court, Wang Shiping, said the hospital should have kept Yu's medical record a secret even if she had turned out to be HIV-positive.
An official of the ministry's Law and Supervision Department, who refused to give his name, said that according to regulations, all people including doctors, are forbidden to give out the name, address or other information about HIV carriers and AIDS patients.
The regulation on supervision and management of HIV/AIDS, which was issued by the ministry in 1987, also said all people, including doctors, are forbidden to discriminate against HIV/AIDS victims and their relatives.
The intermediate court said the hospital and the station had not respected Yu's privacy. Yu said the shopping center refused to rent counters to her and nearly everybody in Xinzhou thought she was an HIV carrier. The gossip even led her business partner in Taiyuan to cut off relations with her.
(China Daily 07/17/2001)