Representative Barbara Lee has introduced a bill in the House which she is pretty sure won’t pass. The law would provide federal funds and incentives to states which re-consider penalties for deliberate HIV transmission or exposure. According to the Associated Press, she wants to start a debate with governors and legislators. Some call it raising awareness, others believe it is designed to endear Lee to some of her constituents. Whatever you think about it, Congresswoman Lee has people talking.
Many of these laws which Lee and others believe are punitive and discriminatory were passed in the early stages of the HIV/AIDS crisis, when a positive HIV test was anything but “positive.” It was a death sentence. With medical advances and an increase in public understanding of the virus, the disease is seen more as a chronic condition than an imminent terminal diagnosis.
However, HIV/AIDS remains an expensive disease to treat and a difficult diagnosis to live with. Anyone who has a positive HIV test would gladly remove the virus from their body, if possible. Any individual considering a sexual relationship with someone else deserves to know a partner’s HIV status. Exposing a sexual partner to HIV through protected or unprotected sex without the partner’s knowledge is a heinous, selfish act. This is why 34 states have laws which impose penalties to individuals who knowingly expose others to HIV/AIDS through their behavior.
AIDS advocacy groups and Congresswoman Lee aren’t so sure that these laws are appropriate. In their review of cases in which people have been given heavier sentences because the crime involved possible exposure of the AIDS virus to others, they look at the issue differently than conservative groups. Their opinions seem influenced by whether the disease was transmitted or not, not whether the individual charged failed to disclose his or her status or considered their status in the commission of the crime. Using that logic, is it okay to shoot at someone as long as you miss?
Advocacy groups instead wish to encourage individuals to be responsible and disclose their status without criminal penalties. However, if that was practical, how would HIV/AIDS continue to spread? If everyone was up front about HIV status to others and everyone was responsible in practicing safer sex, how would the virus spread at all?
Where does this proposed change in the law leave criminal justice professionals like corrections personnel and police? Although medical personnel advise that the possibility of AIDS transmission via simple spitting is low, would they have the same feeling if an HIV positive person were spitting on them? What about suspects or offenders who bite, breaking the skin? What about prisoners who deliberately expose corrections officers to bodily fluids? What about prisoners who rape other prisoners. What about people who routinely have unprotected sex with others, knowing that they have tested positive for the virus, yet fail to disclose this fact?
Professional wrestler Andre Davis faces sentencing on January 6 following a conviction of sleeping with over a dozen women without disclosing that he was HIV positive. Does the sentence hinge on whether any of the women actually contracted the disease from him or that he knowingly exposed them to a risk of which they were not aware?
What position would Representative Lee take if a corporation such as an HMO or a pharmaceutical company was found to have exposed patients to a risk of HIV/AIDS to the degree that the individuals she seeks to protect have? Would that same risk be acceptable if a corporation exposed patients to HIV/AIDS via used syringes, research, or a failure to test to save money? If the answer is no, why is it acceptable for an individual to do so?
For the protection of law enforcement and the public, I believe that laws should remain in place permitting more severe penalties for a person who knowingly exposes others to HIV, whether in the commission of a crime or in their sexual activity. If we rely on voluntary compliance, we would get the same results as if we relied on voluntary compliance to speed limits.
These are my thoughts. Please share your opinion with LET.
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