CHINA - A court in Tianjin has accepted a suit from an HIV carrier against a hospital that refused to perform lung cancer surgery on him.
Xiaofeng (not his real name), 26, took the case to Hexi District People's Court in Tianjin on Feb 26, accusing the hospital of violating his personal dignity. He demanded a written apology and reimbursement of his medical expenses from the hospital.
The defendant, Cancer Institute and Hospital of Tianjin Medical University, allegedly refused to operate on Xiaofeng after a pre-surgery blood test showed he was HIV positive.
Xiaofeng ultimately had to hide his condition and alter the medical record he received from the cancer hospital to seek treatment at a third hospital in November.
Liu Wei, Xiaofeng's lawyer, said the case is the first of its kind in China, which involves an HIV carrier suing a hospital for equal access to medical services and being treated with dignity.
Liu was optimistic about the suit, as her client had copies of the original medical records as evidence to prove that the hospital had indeed denied treatment because of his HIV-positive status.
"The court has not decided on which day to hear the case. To reach a verdict, it will take three to six months," Liu said.
Liu agreed to offer Xiaofeng legal assistance for free after she heard his story from Li Hu, head of Haihezhixing, a Tianjin-based non-governmental organisation that helps HIV carriers in local communities.
Li posted a message about Xiaofeng's ordeal on his micro blog on Nov 13, which was quickly spread by media and came to the attention of China's top leaders.
"Xiaofeng is the first person to stand up against unfair treatment and to fight for people in similar conditions in China," Li said, adding that the HIV carrier had shown an unwavering determination to fight for his rights since they met.
Many HIV carriers suffer similar hardships as Xiaofeng and initially vow they will not accept it. But in a few months, their anger and indignation dies out. They find little help and give up their fight, Li said.
"But Xiaofeng is different. He insisted on not letting it go. Even his father came to me and asked me to find legal assistance," Li said.
Speaking on behalf of Xiaofeng, Li said the hospital had not contacted Xiaofeng after the incident, nor sent an apology.
Xiaofeng wants to defend HIV carriers' lawful rights to access medical services including surgeries at hospitals. Some HIV carriers who suffer from lung cancer, if denied surgery, can die in three years, Li said.
Xiaofeng will probably face more pressure and discrimination after further publicity of the case. Xiaofeng is prepared for the stress. His health has improved, and he returned to work a few days ago, Li said.
"What Xiaofeng most wants from a just verdict is an apology and understanding, no matter how the case proceeds," Li said.