Home HIV Tests vs Medical Paternalism

OraquickLast week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a meeting to consider whether a popular rapid HIV test used in clinical laboratories should be approved for home use. The 
OraQuick ADVANCE Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test from OraSure Technologies used oral fluid specimens swabbed from the outer gums and provides results within 20 minutes at home. (An example of a positive result — two horizontal lines in the test window — is shown at left.)

In the hands of professionals, the OraQuick test has a long and successful track record. The FDA is obviously concerned that the test should be simple for untrained consumers to perform and to evaluate, but as long as it works well enough, who could object?

Medical professionals could object. A Boston Herald story points out that the glass is half empty: Solitary suffering risk with at-home AIDS tests. The chief of the infectious diseases center at the Boston Medical Center notes that professional testing is "a great opportunity to connect people to a mental health clinician, doctor and nurse. All that goes away with home testing.” That may be true, but consumers deserve to know on their own.

I’ll bet the home HIV test gets approved, but the much larger issue — the professionals’ reflexive disdain for self care — is only going to get hotter. In an excellent opinion piece in TechNewsWorld titled Forward Future Requires Past Principles, Sonia Arrison, director of Technology Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, makes the case:

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are core human rights that should be the foundation of all policy. Every individual should have the ability to avoid death and pursue survival. Regulations that ban life-saving procedures or tests, such as a ban against at-home AIDS tests, violate this right.