Lasik association notes some member doctors treat HIV-positive clients
A gay Dallas man who complained that a lasik eye surgeon would not treat him because he had sex with an HIV-positive person has now received the surgery.
Ethan Ly said he underwent the surgery on Nov. 3 after meeting with the surgeon, Dr. William Boothe, and discussing his complaint. The surgery was a success, he said.
Ly said Boothe told him he had been under the impression that he was HIV-positive, and that he does not treat people with any immunological disorder because of the risk to the patient.
“He said his staff misinformed him,” Ly said. “He said it wasn’t my mistake, and it wasn’t his mistake. It was the staff’s mistake.”
Ly said the complication arose because he answered yes on a questionnaire he filled out at the doctor’s office. The question asked if he had ever had intimate contact with someone who was HIV-positive, he said.
He later tested negative for HIV, Ly said.
Ly said he was unsure whether he believed Boothe’s explanation, but he went ahead with the surgery because he was confident with the surgeon’s technical skills.
Boothe gave him a $790 discount on the surgery to compensate for the distress his staff caused him, Ly said.
Ly said he was unsure whether he felt compensated for the emotional stress he suffered when the surgeon’s staff rejected him for treatment.
“I don’t know,” Ly said. “I try not to think about it.”
Ly said his research about lasik treatment has convinced him that the surgeon has the right to reject HIV-positive patients because it is elective surgery.
“I looked around, and he doesn’t have to,” Ly said.
The Americans With Disabilities Act at Title III prohibits businesses from discriminating based on disability or on perceived disability. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises people with immune disorders of any kind that they are probably not good candidates for lasik surgery because of the danger of improper healing.
Glenn Hagele, founder and executive director of the Council for Refractive Surgery Quality Assurance, said some lasik surgeons treat HIV patients while others do not.
“Our recommendation is that if you have any immune deficiency syndrome at all you are at an elevated risk for a poor outcome,” Hagele said.
It is not an issue of transfer of the virus to the surgeon, staff or other patients, Hagele said.
“Many doctors do not want to perform elective surgery of any kind on someone who is immune depressed because you don’t know how the body is going to respond,” Hagele said.
There is little bleeding involved in lasik surgery, and eye secretions do not carry a threat of transmitting the virus, Hagele said.
Hagele said anyone who has HIV or any other immune deficiency syndrome should be aware of the possibility of complications.
“The most anybody can expect is a reduced need for glasses and contact lenses,” Hagele said. “To get that convenience there’s some risk. With immune deficiency syndrome the risk is the patient’s body is going to respond in an expected way, and they are going to have more problems with their immune deficiency than they will with the lasik.”
Hagele said there is anecdotal evidence that there are some people with HIV who have had successful lasik surgery. Many lasik surgeons in San Francisco treat HIV-positive people, he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 10, 2006.