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Boston Medical Center can refuse treating HIV patient who won’t wear mask: Judge

Boston Medical Center can refuse to provide life-saving treatment to a HIV patient who won’t wear a mask at his appointments, a judge has ruled.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Diane Freniere denied the bid from the unnamed HIV patient, who has been suing the hospital and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health over the COVID face mask requirement.

The HIV patient was asking the judge to order the hospital to not enforce the mask requirement, and to make BMC resume his HIV treatment, which includes refilling a prescription of anti-retroviral pills. If the HIV patient doesn’t get these pills, he will soon develop AIDS, his attorney argues in the lawsuit.

After the court held a hearing on the patient’s request for a temporary restraining order, the judge rejected John Doe’s plea — writing that BMC would be violating the state’s mask policy and its own infection control policies if they let the maskless patient get treatment.

“Doing so would place the BMC healthcare providers and other patients, particularly the immunocompromised patients seeking care in BMC’s Center for Infectious Diseases, at an increased risk for infection,” Freniere wrote in the denial.

The HIV patient’s lawyer, Ilya Feoktistov, told the Herald that the judge’s decision was “shocking” and “cruel.”

The patient has “experienced negative medical symptoms” from wearing masks, the attorney argued in the lawsuit. That included feeling anxious and as if he couldn’t get a full breath of air, itchy eyes, and his airway burned, the lawyer said. The patient also developed a rash where the mask touched the skin of his face, he added.

There will be a hearing on the patient’s motion for a preliminary injunction in January, but Feoktistov said he’s “not optimistic.”

“Because frankly, there needs to be a major paradigm shift in government about all these things, the balancing of risk and about patients’ rights,” the lawyer said. “They’ve taken a complete 180 when it comes to the rights of the hospital versus the rights of the patient.”

Delaying HIV treatment puts patients at higher risk for transmitting HIV to their partners, getting sick, and developing AIDS, according to the CDC.

Will the patient consider trying on a mask again?

“No, he’s not going to back down,” Feoktistov said.

BMC said in a statement about the lawsuit, “Boston Medical Center has an obligation as a hospital to safeguard the health of our patients, staff and visitors. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires masking in the hospital for safety, and an exemption can be requested for specific medical reasons. The plaintiff declined BMC’s offer of a telehealth appointment for evaluation of an exemption to the mask requirement.”

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