In testimony before the New York State Assembly Committee on Health today, the New York Civil Liberties Union reminded lawmakers of the civil rights questions raised by proposals that would eliminate the requirement that individuals give written informed consent before being tested for HIV.

Elisabeth Benjamin, Director of the NYCLU's Reproductive Rights Project, testified on three proposals now before the Committee on Health, each of which, Benjamin said, infringes on patients' fundamental right to give informed consent before receiving treatment.

 Those proposals are:

1. the 2005 New York State Department of Health regulations;

2. New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas Frieden's proposals to revise Article 27-f of the State Public Health Law;

3. and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations concerning "routine" testing of patients for HIV.

While it supports the State of New York's efforts to increase voluntary HIV testing, the NYCLU maintains that patients must be given the opportunity to provide written informed consent for testing, and be provided with pre- and post-test counseling.

"Our current public health laws governing HIV testing respect patient autonomy and privacy," Benjamin testified. "... We believe that more people should be offered access to HIV testing. But 'routine' testing can be implemented successfully while still respecting patients' rights to receive information about the medical testing and procedures they are about to undergo and, when such testing and procedures are significant, to provide written informed consent."