PORTLAND — A Bangor dentist’s refusal to treat patients with infectious diseases, including AIDS and HIV, has triggered civil rights lawsuits in state and federal court.
Dr. Randon Bragdon, who maintains that AIDS and HIV patients cannot be treated safely in a dentist’s office, faces lawsuits under both the Maine Human Rights Act and the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Bragdon says the virus that causes AIDS can spread in ways yet unrecognized and that policymakers are taking the wrong approach by treating the epidemic as a political issue rather than a medical issue.
“Dr. Bragdon’s political thinking and science is way outside the mainstream,” responds attorney Bennett Klein, who is handling both court cases on behalf of the Boston-based AIDS Law Project of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
Suits have been filed around the country involving refusal to treat AIDS and HIV patients, and the cases involving Bragdon are not the first in Maine. The state’s earlier cases, however, have been settled quietly out of court, said Deborah Shields, executive director of The AIDS Project in Portland.
A lawsuit was filed against Bragdon in state court early last year by the Maine Human Rights Commission and the estate of a Brewer man, identified in the complaint as John Doe, who died of AIDS on Sept. 26, 1992.
Doe’s complaint said he called Bragdon’s office in 1991 for root canal treatment only to be told of the policy against treating anyone with HIV or other infectious diseases.
Doe went to the Maine Human Rights Commission, which concluded that Bragdon, as owner of a “public accommodation,” had discriminated against Doe.
Sidney Abbott, also of Brewer, filed her lawsuit Dec. 1 in U.S. District Court. The suit said that when Abbott told Bragdon that she had HIV, he said he would treat her in a hospital operating room and that she would have to pay the hospital’s fee.
Bragdon’s policy runs counter to standard dental treatment of people with HIV and AIDS. Both the federal Centers for Disease Control and the American Dental Association say that by taking adequate precautions, dentists can treat such patients safely.
The Maine Dental Association says the risk of infection is so slight that “refusal to treat, based solely on a patient’s HIV-positive status, is unethical,” says Frances Miliano, the MDA’s executive director.
Klein says writings by Bragdon about HIV and AIDS demonstrate that his policy “is strongly colored by nothing more than pure prejudice toward gay men and other people infected by HIV.”
Bragdon responds that his practice includes gays and that he is doing what he knows is right.
“People who want to treat this as a disease are not homophobes,” he says.