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Ethics briefings
  1. Veronica English,
  2. Rebecca Mussell,
  3. Julian Sheather,
  4. Ann Sommerville
  1. BMA Ethics Department

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    “Mandatory” blood testing

    In February 2005, the Scottish Justice Minister issued a consultation document1 on proposed legislation allowing victims of an assault involving the transmission of body fluids to apply for information from the alleged assailant’s medical record. It argued that such information could allow rape and assault victims to make informed decisions about prophylaxis for HIV and notify them of other blood-borne infections. The legislation would also allow a sheriff to ask an alleged assailant to undergo diagnostic blood tests or face a fine. Similar laws exist in Canada and Australia. The main beneficiaries of the law would be the police, who have been pressing for such legislation. While accepting that the risks of infection inevitably cause anxiety for assault victims, health organisations generally opposed the proposals. The British Medical Association, for example, questioned their scientific basis and considered them to be an unjustified infringement of the rights of people accused (but not convicted) of assault. The consultation closed on 20 May and a report reflecting the responses was due for publication on 20 June 2005.

    Confidentiality and young people

    Mixed messages were sent to young people in England as schools offered access to condoms for those aged over 11 years in efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies.2 Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. At the same time, health organisations expressed concern about draft child protection guidelines,3 which mandate the reporting to the police of all sexually active people aged 13 or under. The guidance advocates routine disclosure to the police about the sexual partners of anyone under the age of 16. Similar guidelines have been drawn up in various parts of England, denying health professionals the ability to exercise discretion about when to involve the police. Clearly, the younger the individual, the more serious the concerns when contraception or treatment …

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