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Doctors who should be easing the suffering of AIDS patients are often guilty of prejudice and insensitivity, members of a panel of AIDS sufferers said last night.
The discussion, titled "The Experience of Living with AIDS," was part of the Festival of Life week, sponsored by the Harvard/Radcliffe AIDS Benefit Committee. Organizers chose last night's panel members because they represented a cross section of the AIDS community, a committee member said.
"I get the ignorance and insensitive treatment from [doctors] who are supposedly qualified," said Steve D. Oliva, who described himself as the "token middle-class, heterosexual dope fiend" on the panel.
"I told my doctor I would die of grief, heartache and depression before I would die of the disease, and he said, 'But those aren't diseases!'" said LeBaron C. Moseby '66.
Moseby's doctor was also callous when he first diagosed the disease, Moseby said. "The doctor said, 'You've got AIDS. If you stay with us, we'll stick with you to the very end.' I was pissed. I was shocked," Moseby said.
In addition to criticizing the behavior of their doctors, the panelists also questioned the ethics of researchers who withheld treatment from AIDS in "control groups" as part of their experiments.
In this type of experiment, medication is denied to some patients so that their symptoms can be compared to those shown by patients receiving treatment.
"They keep giving us placebos and letting us die. Everyone knows we can't live without treatment," Moseby said.
And Dr. Andrew H. Geiger said experiments using control groups were accurate but cost too much in human lives. "You can get really effective data really quickly, but you'll kill a bunch of people," said Geiger, who called himself the "token gay, white middle-class male" on the panel.
The panel also questioned the ethics of doctors who turned away AIDS patients. Two of the panelists cited an informal survey in which only four of 198 doctor contacted agreed to treat virus carriers.
The plight of AIDS sufferers was worsened by the stigmas attached to the disease, panelists said. "This disease affects gays and IV drug users more [than anyone else]. Can you get lower on the social totem pole?" asked Oliva.
The Festival of Life will continue through Sunday. All proceeds from the week's event will go to local AIDS charities.
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