The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that those who carry the HIV virus are disabled, meaning that they are entitled to the broad rights given to disabled people through the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Deciding that an "HIV infection is an impairment which substantially limits the major life activity of reproduction," the court ordered a lower court to reconsider whether a Maine dentist violated the (ADA) when he refused to fill an HIV-positive woman's tooth in his office.
In its 5-to-4 ruling, the court said that people who carry the HIV virus are protected by the ADA, even if they suffer no symptoms of AIDS. "HIV infection satisfies the statutory and regulatory definition of a physical impairment during every stage of the disease," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.
Public health authorities say there is no documented case of a dentist contracting the AIDS virus from a patient, and Justice Kennedy wrote that the dentist "had the duty to assess the risk of infection based on the objective, scientific information available to him and others in his profession."
The ADA, signed by President Bush in 1990, protects the disabled against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations such as dentists' offices.