NEWS

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December 3, 2006

A viral assault?

About a week ago, CNN ran this article (which I found via Southern Appeal), about a man who was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for intentionally exposing three women to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.This is no doubt a controversial issue, and one of extreme ethical and legal importance. I don't know all the specific details about this case, but generally, I support the notion that putting other individuals at risk of biological or chemical infection without their consent is no different than if one were to put others at risk using a weapon that could be held by hand. If a man lies or neglects to inform his partner(s) about his positive HIV status, he can and should be held accountable.I would, however, have a much harder time accusing someone of negligence who exposed or infected a partner not knowing that he or she was HIV positive. I suppose one could make a legal argument that if a person engages in high-risk activity--unprotected sex, multiple acquaintance partners, sharing needles, etc--than they could be said to be negligent for not getting tested. Such a charge would have to be much less severe than those that show either prior knowledge of their disease or specific intent to infect. I am, however, very weary in general of bringing sexual history into court proceedings.While I hold this position for any communicable and potentially severe or deadly disease, I also recognize the controversy that may surround taking this position on HIV/AIDS in particular. If this becomes a more common legal practice, safeguards must be put in place to make sure that the disease itself is not criminalized and that the stigma of HIV positive and AIDS individuals, which has begun to break down, does not build back up.