Joao Simoes is suing Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Union County, New Jersey, Superior Court for denying him his HIV medications for five days, and refusing to allow his sister to visit. The New Jersey man was admitted to the facility in August of 2011, and seen by Dr. Susan V. Borja.
Dr. Borja, according to the complaint (but who is not listed as a defendant in the action), reacted negatively when Simoes told her he was HIV positive. When he told her, at her asking, that he became infected through unprotected sex, she asked “Is that from sex with men?” When Simoes indicated it was, he said she got a disgusted look on her face, closed the folder containing his case files, and left the room. Moments before, the doctor did not seem to have any issues with a patient who told her he was a convicted murderer who had just been released from prison.
No other nurse or staff made contact with Mr. Simoes, and it was three days before they allowed him to call his personal physician. That doctor told Simoes that he had already spoken to Dr. Borja, who said “you must be gay, too, if you’re his doctor.”
Simoes was denied his medication for five days, something that can have dangerous results for people required to take them daily. HIV strains can quickly develop immunity to medications that are not taken in a regular regimin.
Simoes sister was also denied visitation, and he was, according to the suit, only allowed his meds because he saw his sister give them to the nursing staff when she returned to visit him on the day he was finally allowed to speak to his own doctor.
Courthouse News Service has the story.
Many in the religious community, and on the political right, are demanding the right for medical practitioners to deny treatment, or refuse to fill prescriptions, based on their “moral objections”. The situation Mr. Simoes found himself in is a perfect example of why these “moral objection” clauses must not be allowed to become law. This “doctor” (and I use the term loosely in this case), hospital, and other medical practitioners must not be permitted to pick and choose what diseases or medical issues they will or will not treat. People are at their mercy, and in cases like Simoes’, there is no other option. The fact that it took three days to speak to his own doctor, and five before he was given his medication is clearly not something that should be allowed to stand, and go unpunished.
Perhaps it would do well for Dr. Borja, and those who demand a “moral objection” exemption, to refresh in their minds the Hippocratic Oath:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”, nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, be respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
They would do well to also recall the adage, “First, do no harm“. Denying a person proper medical treatment in the form of already prescribed medications can have serious consequences.
Dr. Borja told Simoes’ doctor “this is what he gets for going against God’s will”. Borja is clearly putting her own religious doctrine above the treatment of a patient placed under her care. Hospital staff also failed to carry out their primary mission, treatment of the ill, by refusing to allow Simoes access to his doctor, and family.
Bigotry exists in all aspects of our lives, but it is unsettling to find it in an environment where one’s life hangs in the balance. This “doctor”, staff, and hospital need an education in what their jobs are really all about. Sometimes that comes in the form of a lawsuit, and a large cash settlement.