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Drug Testing News
Supreme Court won't
hear drug-test appeal
Posted on Tue, Jun. 17, 2003
By GINA HOLLAND
The Associated Press
Washington The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a
second appeal from a South Carolina hospital in a lawsuit over
now-illegal hospital drug tests on pregnant women.
The Supreme Court ruled two years ago the tests, once given at
the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston,
violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable
search and seizure. Some women who tested positive for drugs
were arrested from their beds shortly after giving birth.
The Medical University of South Carolina had asked the Supreme
Court to consider the narrower issue of whether the women knew
their urine was being screened for drugs, as part of a 1989
policy designed to stop the crack baby epidemic.
The answer will help determine damages in the case.
The justices, without comment, declined. The case now will
return to a federal district court in Charleston, where a jury
will rule on damages.
After ruling two years ago the policy, since abandoned, was an
unreasonable search, the justices had ordered a lower court to
consider the hospital's argument that the women consented to
the tests. A divided panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals ruled last year that most of the women who sued did
not know they were being tested.
The appeals court ruling could be interpreted as requiring
patient consent for every test or procedure.
Robert Hood, the attorney for the city of Charleston and the
hospital, said that would endanger laws requiring "public
health care workers, as well as a whole spectrum of others
such as social workers and teachers, to report evidence of
suspected crimes such as child abuse or domestic violence."
The women's attorney, Priscilla Smith with the Center for
Reproductive Rights, said patients need to be aware of tests
run on them. A different ruling "would violate fundamental
norms of medical ethics, undermining the doctor-patient
relationship and threatening public health" because some
pregnant women would not seek care.
In 1993, 10 women sued MUSC, medical school officials, the
city of Charleston and local law enforcement authorities,
saying the testing was an unconstitutional search.
A federal jury in Charleston rejected the women's claim and,
in 1999, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the drug
tests, saying the law allows searches without a warrant when
the government shows a special need.
The appeals judges said the policy was a valid effort to
reduce crack cocaine use by pregnant woman. Police arrested
about 30 maternity patients and charged them under the state's
child endangerment law while the policy was in effect.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court later reversed the appeals
court, saying the testing violated the Constitution.