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Health

“Mr. Doe has other options he can pursue to obtain the medical treatment he desires,” the judge ruled.

Adam Glanzman
Boston Medical Center doesn’t have to treat an HIV-positive patient who refuses to wear a face mask at appointments, a judge ruled last week. 

Boston Medical Center doesn’t have to treat an HIV-positive patient who refuses to wear a face mask at appointments, a judge ruled last week. 

The unnamed patient — who is suing the hospital, two of its doctors, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke over masking requirements — asked the court to order BMC to resume his HIV treatment without requiring him to wear a mask.

In denying John Doe’s request for a temporary restraining order, however, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Diane Freniere noted that BMC isn’t Doe’s only option for treatment. 

“In short, Mr. Doe has other options he can pursue to obtain the medical treatment he desires,” she ruled. 

Granting the request would require BMC to violate state public health directives and its own infection control policies, putting health care providers and other patients at an increased risk for infection, she added. 

The background

According to his Dec. 12 complaint, Doe takes anti-retroviral pills, which help control HIV and keep it from progressing into AIDS. Without semiannual in-person appointments and blood analysis, Doe said his pharmacy will not refill his prescription.

Early on in the pandemic, he did these check-ups virtually. When in-person appointments resumed in 2021, Doe wore a mask but said he “felt anxious and as if he was unable to get a full breath of air, his eyes itched, and his airway burned from the nose down to below the throat.”

After the appointment, he said he developed a persistent cough and lingering rash where the mask touched his face. Doe also said he’s had similar reactions to other types of face masks. 

He declined to wear a mask at subsequent appointments. 

“Boston Medical Center has an obligation as a hospital to safeguard the health of our patients, staff and visitors,” the hospital said in a statement. “The Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires masking in the hospital for safety, and an exemption can be requested for specific medical reasons. The plaintiff declined BMC’s offer of a telehealth appointment for evaluation of an exemption to the mask requirement.”

The sticking point was Doe’s request that his lawyer join him at the appointment as a witness and support person — a request BMC denied, according to his complaint.

In its own court filing, BMC said it provided several months of prescriptions to tide Doe over while he sought care with another provider.

Doe argues that BMC committed medical battery, violated the Massachusetts Patients’ Bill of Rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and interfered with his civil rights, among other claims. 

What’s next?

“My client will not wear a face mask at his doctors’ appointments, both for medical reasons and, at this point, as an expression of protest,” Doe’s attorney, Ilya Feoktistov, told Boston.com in an email. “We are trying to find him care elsewhere. However, all hospitals require face masks in Massachusetts, no exceptions.”

He noted that Doe’s options are limited, as he is insured through MassHealth, and out-of-state treatment is cost prohibitive. 

A hearing on Doe’s motion for a preliminary injunction is slated for Jan. 5, but Feoktistov said he’s not optimistic about the case’s near-term future. 

“However, I feel morally obligated to fight it until we have exhausted all process,” he said. 

According to Feoktistov, Doe said he is “hoping this case will end these ridiculous mandates within hospitals.”



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