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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Perspectives on the ethical concerns and justifications of the 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV testing: HIV screening policy changes

Michael J Waxman1*, Roland C Merchant23, M Teresa Celada4 and Melissa A Clark3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Albany Medical College, Albany, USA

2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Alpert Medical School, Providence, USA

3 Department of Community Health, Alpert Medical School and Public Health Program of Brown University, Providence, USA

4 Wheaton College, Wheaton, USA

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BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-46

Published: 12 November 2013



The 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised recommendations for HIV testing in clinical settings contained seven specific changes to how health care facilities should provide HIV testing. These seven elements have been both supported and challenged in the lay and medical literature. Our first paper in BMC Medical Ethics presented an analysis of the three HIV testing procedural changes included in the recommendations. In this paper, we address the four remaining elements that concern HIV screening policy changes: (1) nontargeted HIV screening, (2) making HIV screening similar to screening for other treatable conditions, (3) increasing HIV screening without assured additional funding for linkage to care, and (4) making patients bear the costs of increased HIV screening in health care settings.


We interviewed 25 members from the fields of US HIV advocacy, care, policy, and research about the ethical merits and demerits of the four changes to HIV screening policies. We performed a qualitative analysis of the participant responses in the interviews and summarized the major themes.


Participants commented that nontargeted HIV screening and making HIV screening similar to screening for other treatable medical conditions was ethical when it broadened the scope of people being tested for HIV. However, they believed it was unethical when it did not respect the exceptional nature of HIV and HIV testing. Some participants favored more testing regardless if there was assured additional funding for linkage to care or if patients might bear the costs of testing because they believed that merely alerting patients of their status was beneficial and would lead to positive consequences. Other participants found ethical flaws with testing without assured linkage to care and patients bearing the costs of testing, as this could discriminate against those who could not pay.


Our findings suggest that there are fundamental ethical disagreements that shape views on CDC’s recommended HIV testing policies. Differences remain on whether or not HIV remains an exceptional condition that requires it to be treated differently than other treatable conditions. Disagreement also exists on the responsibilities of health care providers and rights of patients in regards to screening in (1) the absence of assured linkage to care after an HIV diagnosis and (2) paying for the costs of HIV screening. Resolution of these disagreements is needed to serve the common goal of using testing to facilitate medical care for those who are HIV infected and for reducing HIV transmission.