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HIV testing and informed consent
  1. L Frith
  1. Correspondence to:
 Lucy Frith
 Lecturer in Health Care Ethics, Department of Primary Care, The University of Liverpool, The Whelan Building, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, L69 3GB, UK; l.j.frith{at}

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People should be allowed to decide how and where they wish to be tested for HIV without there being a formal requirement for pretest counselling

In his paper, Ethics of HIV testing in general practice without informed consent, Fraser argues that pretest counselling and informed consent are pillars of the ethical conduct of HIV testing. In my response I want to look critically at these contentions. While I will agree with Fraser that it is always necessary to get informed consent from a patient for an HIV test I will argue that an emphasis on pretest counselling as a prerequisite for testing can actually undermine a patient’s autonomy, the very principle that informed consent seeks to promote.

This response will start with an analysis of Case Two as this highlights the fundamental importance of informed consent. It will then go on to look at Case One and show how the special application of informed consent in the field of HIV testing can, in certain circumstances, lead to a reduction in patient autonomy.


In Fraser’s second case a 43 year old married clergyman presented with a recurrent infection of his little toe and the preliminary lab reports queried Kaposi’s sarcoma. The general practitioner (GP) thought that because of the patient’s lifestyle there was little risk of HIV infection, “suggesting the possibility of HIV, when it is unexpected and the risk low, can in itself cause anxiety and distress”. On these grounds the GP did not call the patient in for an HIV test.

Some might argue that the GP should have tested the clergyman. This could have been done in one of two ways: by seeking his explicit consent for an HIV test, or by getting blanket consent for a range of tests, including HIV, without HIV being explicitly mentioned. …

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