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Case arguing that a doctor cannot refuse to perform surgery on a man because of his HIV status


Lambda Legal represented Stephen Spera, a Wisconsin man whose doctor refused to perform surgery on him because of his HIV status. Spera had sought treatment from an orthopedist for severe and debilitating back pain in 2000. For nearly two years, he received care from the orthopedist with a series of pain management procedures, but with little success. The doctor finally recommended spinal fusion surgery, and Spera submitted to a blood test to enter the hospital as a patient for surgery. The blood test revealed that Spera, who had previously tested negative for HIV, was HIV-positive. The orthopedist informed Spera of his status and said he would not perform the surgery. Lambda Legal sued, arguing that the doctor’s discriminatory actions were illegal under both federal and state law. The case has been successfully resolved.


Both the federal Rehabilitation Act and Americans With Disabilities Act protect people with disabilities, including HIV, from discrimination by physicians. Wisconsin also has a law that prohibits health care providers from refusing to treat people, based only on their HIV status, if they would offer similar treatment to people who are HIV-negative.

Lambda Legal’s Impact

In this HIV discrimination case, Lambda Legal successfully argued that doctors are obliged by federal and Wisconsin state law to treat people with HIV. This is one of many Lambda Legal cases to ensure that people with HIV have fair and equal access to medical care and other key services.


  • October 2004 Lambda Legal files lawsuit arguing that a Wisconsin doctor illegally discriminated against his patient by refusing to perform surgery when he learned the man has HIV.
  • July 2006 The case is successfully resolved.