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Milbank Memorial Fund




In JULY 1991, THE UNITED STATES SENATE VOTED 81 to 18 to impose a $10,000 fine and a ten-year jail sentence on any HTV-infected physicians who treated patients without disclosing their HIV status. Senator Jesse Helms, the sponsor of the measure, explained his rationale: “Let the punishment fit the crime. . . . I believe in horsewhipping. I feel that strongly about it” (Tolchin 1991). Later, Senator Helms wrote that HIV-infected physicians who practice medicine “should be treated no better than the criminal who guns down a helpless victim on the street” (Helms 1991). In his article he explained that Kimberly Bergalis was the inspiration for his proposal. Ms. Bergalis was not only the inspiration for Senator Helms: when she died of AIDS at the age of 23 in late 1991, she was the first known patient to have been infected with HIV by a health care professional, her dentist, Dr. David Acer (Center for Disease Control 1990). Although it now appears that Dr. Acer infected five of his patients (Centers for Disease Control 199 le), the case of Kimberly Bergalis was the one to capture the public’s imagination and has been the driving force behind a movement toward mandatory HIV testing of health care workers. In a letter to Florida health officials in April 1991, which was widely reprinted in the media, she said: Who do I blame? Do I blame myself? I sure don’t. I never used IV drugs, never slept with anyone and never had a blood transfusion. I blame every single one of you bastards. Anyone that knew that Dr. Acer was infected . . . and stood by not doing a damn thing about it. . . . I f laws are not formed to provide protection, then my suffering and death was [sic] in vain. (Kantrowitz 1991, 52)



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