Neurosurgeons who turned away HIV patient settle lawsuit

WASHINGTON - A group of Oklahoma neurosurgeons that refused to operate on a man infected with HIV can no longer turn away HIV patients and must pay $50,000 under an agreement with the Justice Department.

The agreement, approved Friday by a federal judge in Tulsa, Okla., resolves a government lawsuit that had charged Dr. Karl N. Detwiler with discriminating against John J. McCarthy in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Justice Department said.

Detwiler was affiliated with Neurological Surgery Inc., a consortium of privately practicing neurosurgeons that now does business as Neurosurgery Specialists.

''A discriminatory refusal of medical care is especially egregious where, as here, the refusal affects a population so dependent on the availability of medical services,'' Bill Lann Lee, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.

The 1990 disabilities law bans discrimination based on disability and requires that public places, such as doctor's offices, provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities, including those with HIV and AIDS.

Timothy Best, the attorney for Detwiler and Neurosurgery Specialists, said the agreement was ''extortion'' and said the settlement was reached to end lengthy legal battle.

''The mission of this case was persecution, not justice,'' Best said. ''This was a persecution of a caring and compassionate and absolutely competent neurosurgeon.''

The January 1999 suit came after McCarthy was rebuffed when he sought treatment from Detwiler for a back condition.

McCarthy charged that when Detwiler learned of his condition during an examination in November 1997, the doctor said he had a policy of not treating people with HIV and refused to provide medical care, including surgery, the Justice Department said.

Best said the patient had concealed medical information and was hostile, demanding to be operated on after Detwiler learned of his HIV infection. Detwiler did not think the patient needed surgery and suggested other kinds of therapy, Best said.

The doctor did have a policy of only operating on HIV-infected patients in life-threatening emergencies, Best said. ''In elective cases, he did not want to subject his team to that higher risk,'' he said.

Best said that they had argued the policy had been legal at the time of the 1997 incident because the disabilities law had not yet been interpreted to apply to HIV patients.

The agreement prohibits the surgeons from refusing to treat people because of their disabilities, including infection with HIV or AIDS. The surgery group must also pay $40,000 to the man who was turned away and a $10,000 civil penalty to the government.

Detwiler will have to attend training on infection control and the treatment of people with HIV and AIDS.


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