Darcy Keenan, columnist
In 1990 the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act, also known as the CARE Act, required states to create and enforce laws that classify the act of knowingly exposing someone to HIV as a felony. This includes the donation of infected bodily fluids, the use of infected medical equipment and sexual activity where the diseased person intends to infect their partner.
However, not everyone agrees these laws are fair. For example, Scott Wiener, state senator from California, is suspicious of the idea that HIV/AIDS should be the only communicable disease that is prosecuted this harshly. Wiener also brings up the idea that it is easy to avoid the criminalization by not getting tested, which will allow HIV to run rampant throughout the country once again.
Wiener’s points are valid, which is why his bill to decrease this from a felony to a misdemeanor passed in California in September and was signed into law by governor Jerry Brown Oct. 6.
From a scientific point of view, it makes sense. HIV is no longer the deadly illness it once was. Because of advancements made in medicine, HIV is now treatable and controllable, and it is possible to live a happy and healthy life after diagnosis, comparable to diabetes. In fact, a medical doctor in the United Kingdom, Max Pemberton, author of, “The Doctor Will See You Now” wrote in an article published in The Spectator in 2014 that he would rather have HIV than diabetes.
It’s true that HIV is a stigmatized disease and many do not understand how people live with it. Through the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) it is routine for the virus to be suppressed and for the infected to live a normal life expectancy.
On Oct. 26 of this year, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled to continue classifying the act of engaging in consensual intercourse without disclosing a positive HIV status to one’s partner as a class two felony. ACLU attorney Elizabeth Bonham has responded to this ruling by saying it allows the government to invade someone’s most private behaviors. She says that sex is a way of self expression, and, when consensual, should never be criminal. She goes on to say that these laws regarding HIV make our communities more vulnerable to an outbreak.
“It makes no sense to single out HIV for criminalization,” Bonham complains, as if one does not have a choice when it comes to disclosing their positive status.
HIV is treatable, not curable. That is an important distinction to make. It is something that will impact one for the rest of their life. If one’s HIV status is disclosed before taking part in any sexual activity, it is no longer criminal. The fact that people are supporting the idea that it is morally okay to knowingly expose someone to HIV without their knowledge is deplorable.
The other fact professionals use to argue for the decriminalization of HIV exposure is that it is the only STI that is criminalized. This brings up the issue that it is completely legal to infect one with any other (incurable) STI. Why isn’t it criminal to engage in sexual activity while knowingly infected with herpes or hepatitis B without informing the rest of the participating parties?
Just because HIV is treatable and not as deadly as it once was does not mean that it is okay to knowingly spread it. It is still a disease that will completely change the way one lives their life, and those who knowingly spread it without their partner’s consent should be punished. Harshly.