HEALTH

Ethical issues of AIDS

ANNE STEACY September 7 1987
HEALTH

Ethical issues of AIDS

ANNE STEACY September 7 1987

Ethical issues of AIDS

HEALTH

Confidentiality between patients and their physicians has traditionally been an inviolable part

of Western medical ethics. But the frightening spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has severely strained that practice. And last week, after an intense daylong debate, the 600 doctors attending the 120th annual Canadian Medical Association (CMA) conference in Charlottetown decided that the protection of society should come first. They passed a resolution which stated that doctors who diagnose a new case of AIDS may relay that information to the victim’s sexual partner. Said a 38-year-old B.C. physician, who refused to give his name, in part to safeguard his patient’s identity: “I have a patient with AIDS who is an old friend. It is the hardest thing I have ever faced.” Added the doctor: “This will surely be the most difficult decade for the CMA and doctors facing this AIDS horror.”

Physicians and scientists are striving to stop the spread of the fatal disease, which attacks the body’s im-

mune system and renders it powerless against infections. In Canada alone, the number of diagnosed cases has nearly tripled during the past two years and now stands at more than 1,250. Still, last week in Houston, Tex., two researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine announced a promising

‘This will surely be the most difficult decade for the Canadian Medical Association and doctors facing this AIDS horror ’

new discovery. Molecular biologist Nancy Chang, 37, and her husband, Tse Wen, a 40-year-old immunologist, said that they had developed an antibody that might arrest the disease in AIDS sufferers, prevent the infection from developing in AIDS virus carriers and protect individuals in high-risk groups. Said Tse Wen Chang: “It is a

potential treatment for people who have AIDS and a potential preventive treatment for people who have come in contact with the virus.”

The antibody was developed during one year of test-tube trials by the Changs’ 10-member team. It consists of spleen cells taken from mice, injected with inactivated AIDS virus and fused with mouse cancer cells. According to Tse Wen Chang, the antibody binds itself to AIDS-infected cells and prevents the virus from spreading to healthy cells. Now, the Changs are seeking to create a hybrid antibody from mouse and human antibodies that will have a similar effect on the human immune system. But they stress that it may take six months or more to develop that antibody—and they add that they are not likely to begin clinical trials on human volunteers until 1989.

Meanwhile, the CMA grappled with other AIDS-related moral issues last week—among them a demand by some members for mandatory tracing of AIDS victims’ sexual contacts and compulsory AIDS testing for all patients admitted to hospitals. Similar debates are bound to continue until scientists find a way to stop the disease.

ANNE STEACY

BARBARA MacANDREW