Routine screening: Informed consent, stigma and the waning of HIV exceptionalism

American Journal of Bioethics 6 (4):5 – 8 (2006)
Abstract
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended that HIV screening should become routine for all adults in the United States. Implicit in the CDC proposal is the notion that pre-test counseling would be more limited than at present, and that written informed consent to screening would no longer be required. If widely implemented, routine testing would mark a tremendous shift in the US HIV screening strategy. There are a number of considerations used to determine what screening tests should be routine, and HIV fits the bill in almost every regard. Yet the stigma associated with HIV infection remains, making the CDC's recommendation highly controversial. Will minimizing requirements for pre-test counseling and special written informed consent lead to unexpected or unwanted HIV testing, or do these stringent counseling and consent requirements needlessly scare people away? Will widespread and routine testing be associated with declining stigmatization, or will it drive some patients away from seeking desperately needed health care? These are high stakes questions, and we're about to find out the answers.
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