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Should nondisclosing HIV-transmitters be subject to 25 years in prison?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | FEBRUARY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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YES

Under no circumstance, would I ever support legislation that threatens to make pariahs of individuals for something beyond their control — whether it is ethnicity, creed, or HIV status. And it is for this reason that I, in my heart of hearts, deeply sympathize with and largely share the concerns expressed by the opponents of Senate File 2149.

Opponents of SF 2149 are right to be concerned. They are right to think it unfair, and they are right to voice their opposition as loudly as possible as to make sure that SF 2149 does not produce a slippery slope. However, they are mischaracterizing the nature of this bill and disseminating specious arguments.

As the law is written, SF 2149 does three things. First, it provides that a person who knows that he or she is HIV positive, who fails to disclose the HIV status to a sexual partner who contracts HIV as a consequence, would be charged with a Class B felony. Second, it distinguishes between cases in which transmission occurs and cases in which transmission does not. In these less-severe cases, the charge would be classified as an "aggravated misdemeanor." Finally, it strikes from law a provision that had previously required people charged with either of the above offenses to register as a "tier III sex offender."

This law does not criminalize HIV, nor does it criminalize sexual activity for HIV-positive individuals. What the bill does is criminalize knowingly exposing people to the risk of contracting HIV without their knowledge of that risk.

In a 2006 article published in Medical Care, a team of 10 researchers found: "The discounted projected lifetime per person medical care cost for individuals entering HIV care is now more than $380,000, the undiscounted cost is about $620,000, and the projected life expectancy is 24.2 years."

Yes, it is true that much progress has been made in treating HIV (in 1997 life expectancy was only four years), but we should not lose sight of the fact that HIV remains, in effect, a death sentence.

At its core, this is an issue of personal responsibility. Communities are responsible for quashing the voices of ignorant bigots who threaten to push HIV-positive individuals underground. All of us are responsible for protecting ourselves from unnecessary risks, and HIV-positive individuals are responsible for giving others the opportunity to make a fully informed decision before exposing themselves to the risk of contracting HIV.

To characterize this bill as the "HIV criminalization law" is to mislead, and failing to disclose one's HIV status is to expose one's sexual partners to a meaningful risk of contracting a disease that near guarantees an early death — that is criminal.

— Daniel Taibleson

NO

The current push to pass a bill that would make the transmission of HIV a felony has an unrealistic goal and will only cause further stigmatization of people who are HIV-positive.

This law is extremely unrealistic when it comes to enforcement. This law would only be fair if its goal was to punish those who intentionally lie to a sexual partner about their ailing sexual health. In this case, it would take the responsibility off of the HIV-positive partner to openly disseminate their medical history, even when unsolicited. People who are concerned with contracting HIV must take initiative to inquire about their partner's sexual health, and their HIV-positive partners should only be punished if they decide to lie intentionally.

Even with this crucial revision to the bill, this would still be extremely difficult to enforce. There is no way of knowing whether people know they are HIV-positive without searching their medical records for proof of tests that came back positive for HIV. I suspect many people would rather opt out of getting tested for fear of being prosecuted in the future and having the courts scrutinize these records, which may ultimately lead to an increase in HIV.

In addition to causing more problems than good, this law would further stigmatize those who are HIV-positive. Transmitting other dangerous and infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and hepatitis C, are only considered misdemeanors, but the transmission of HIV is a felony. This means the law would criminalize HIV-positive people more harshly than others, only adding to the immense stigmatization that is associated with the disease.

Some may argue that transmitting HIV is equivalent to giving someone else the death sentence; however, this belief is fatally flawed. Many people can actually live long and happy lives being HIV-positive. Only if HIV progresses into AIDS, the chance of death increases substantially, proving this argument is invalid.

This laws good intentions mask its unrealistic goals, and the public should recognize this.

— Rebecca Abellera


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