A 35-year-old American woman living with HIV who was denied surgery to remove her gallbladder because of her status has filed a federal lawsuit.

Melody Rose’s case is supported by gay equality advocates Lambda Legal and the AIDS Resource Centre of Wisconsin (ARCW).

The lawsuit was filed today in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Ms Rose says the defendants –- Steven Cahee, MD, Agnesian HealthCare Inc, and Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, violated four different state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its state law counterpart, which both prohibit disability discrimination by places of public accommodation, including healthcare providers.

Other relevant laws include the Rehabilitation Act, which requires recipients of federal financial assistance not to discriminate against people with disabilities and a Wisconsin law addressing HIV discrimination specifically, which forbids healthcare providers from denying services to people, or humiliating and degrading them, based solely on their HIV status.

“Discrimination in healthcare remains a major problem for people living with HIV,” said Peter Kimball, Director of the Legal Services Programme at the ARCW.

Ms Rose experienced health problems with her gallbladder while incarcerated at Taycheedah Correctional Institution in Fond du Lac.

Her doctor referred her to Dr Steven Cahee at the Fond du Lac Regional Hospital to have her gall bladder removed.

However, Dr Cahee allegedly refused to perform the surgery after learning Ms Rose is HIV-positive. 

A surgeon at a different medical facility later removed Ms Rose’s gallbladder.

“Dr Cahee’s actions fly in the face of ethical behaviour for a medical professional,” said Scott Schoettes, Staff Attorney with Lambda Legal’s HIV Project.