of Knowlingly Transmitting AIDS
Brief History of AIDS and the Criminalization
of Knowingly Transmitting It
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus was discoverd
independently in France in 1983 and in the United States in 1984. In the
United States, it was initially identified in 1981. In 1986, a second virus,
now called HIV-2, was also discovered in Africa. HIV-2 also causes AIDS.
AIDS is transmitted in three ways: From
sexual contact without protection, from the mixing of ones blood with infected
blood, and from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection can
occur from blood transfusions of infected blood, or sharing ‘dirty’ needles.
(Needles already used, in this case, by a HIV positive person.)
The criminalization of intentionally spreading
AIDS has been a big issue recently, and still remains so. As of September,
1991, legislation criminalizing AIDS transmission has been passed in 24
states. Among these states are California, Idaho, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan,
and South Carolina. Under these current laws, it is a crime to knowingly
transmit the virus through sex, sharing needles, donating infected blood,
organs, or skin tissue.
The first person to go to court under these
laws in Michigan was Jeffrey Hanlon. Hanlon was a gay man who infected
another man from Michigan while he was in New York. The American Civil
Liberties Union, who agreed to take the case, agrued that the AIDS disclosure
law is unconstitutional. Privacy of those with AIDS is what they were worried
about. Opponents argued that “they’re those with AIDS killing people.
It’s like rape.” The maximum sentence Hanlon could have recieved was four
years in prison and a $2000 fine.
In addition, under the current New York
State law, which dates back well before June, 1987, the knowing transmission
of a venerial disease is a felony. However, at that time, and currently,
AIDS was not classified as a venerial disease.
Interviews Concerning the Issue
Most people believe that the willful transmission
of AIDS to others it virtually murder. I have interviewed **name** and
**name**. Both of them feel that intentionally passing AIDS on to another
person is murder. The recipient of the virus will, in almost every case,
die rather quickly of an AIDS related disease.
**name** feels that “if someone knowingly
transmits AIDS to another person, it’s like committing murder. He or she
should be punished to the full extent of the law.”
In addition to personal interviews, I have
found the opinions of Governor Cuomo and former President Ronald Reagan.
On June 1, 1987, Cuomo revealed that state
lawmakers would consider making the transmission of AIDS a crime. He was
quoted at the time as saying:
“If you know you have AIDS and you pass
it on to someone who is not aware, that should be regarded as a very serious
offense. I’m not talking about sins and morality; I’m talking about a sin
against the community, a crime. We should look into that.” However, nothing
was proposed at the time.
Former President Ronald Reagan called for”routine” AIDS testing of prisoners, marriage license applicants, immigrants,
and possibly some hospital patients. His purpose was only to identify carriers
of the disease; no comment concerning the criminalization of the transmission
of AIDS was made.
Reasons for the Criminalization of Knowingly
There are not many reasons for the criminalization
of knowingly transmitting AIDS. However, they are very convincing arguments.
The first and one of the most convincing
arguments is because it will help stop the propogation of the virus. Ideally,
if people know that it is a crime to transmit the virus, then they will
not. The only way that AIDS will remain an epidemic is if it is continually
spread. This is because those with AIDS will in most cases die rather quickly
of an AIDS related disease. If they do not spread it, then the number of
people with the virus will decline steadily without fail.
Another reason is that someone who is intentionally
transmitting the disease is doing it for their own satisfaction and/or
to hurt others. Such is the case with a drug pusher. Many magazine articles
have made reference to the analogy “a drug pusher is the same as an AIDS
pusher.” Their argument is that if drug pushers are treated as if they
commit criminal acts, then so should the supposed ‘AIDS’ pushers.
The Constitutional argument involoved is
also a moral one. By transmitting the virus willingly one is usurping on
others’ rights to life and happiness. It is also seen as wrong by the public.
In effect, it is murder in the second or third degree. If it is done intentionally,
it is murder in the first degree. Obviously this should be illegal and
those who break the proposed laws should be prosecuted as if they committed
Another reason to criminalize the transmission
of AIDS is because the money from fines incurred may be put towards research
and development of cures, as well as education and prevention programs.
This will help stop the problem and also speed up the process of finding
a cure or immunization for AIDS.
Reasons Against the Criminalization of
Knowingly Transmitting AIDS
There are many more reasons against the
criminalization of willingly transmitting AIDS to others. However, these
are based not on morals but on facts and practicality.
Criminalizing AIDS would divert millions
of dollars to legal fees that could be better spent on AIDS programs such
as prevention, education, and research and development in terms of finding
a cure. “Criminalization is a short cut taken when not enough energy is
given to prevention.” Instead of helping erradicate the epidemic, criminalization
would instill more fear among the people living with HIV. “It would create
a witch hunt atmosphere,” stated William Ramirz, an attorney for a HIV
positive client. Criminalizing AIDS transmission would open doors for people
to knowingly accuse others they know that have it just to get rid of them.
The law would also be practically impossible
to enforce. In some cases, intent would have to be proven. However, it
is usually impossible to prove intent since it is not possible to go “inside”
the minds of others to know what they were thinking in their moment of
passion, whether it be intercourse or drug use.
Even the United States Health Department
opposes criminalization. They fear that it would scare people from reporting
that they have AIDS. This is because those that do report it may be accused
of committing a crime sometime in the future.
My Position and Conclusion
I have mixed feelings on whether or not
the transmission of AIDS should be a criminal act. I feel that it is morally
wrong, and in effect, those who do it are committing murder. There is definitely
a valid argument there. However, due to the validity of the arguments against
the criminalization of passing AIDS on to others, I am partial to both
sides. I agree that it would divert millions of dollars that could be put
to better use in research and other programs. I also agree that it would
be legally and scientifically impossible to prove intent.
I feel that because of these conflicting
ideas that I believe, the best way to resolve the issue would be to make
transmitting the virus a criminal act, but not subject to jail time. Instead
of wasting the taxpayers money on giving free medical care and room and
board to inmates, it should be put towards finding a cure for AIDS. Instead
of a jail term, those who transmit the disease should be fined very heavily
so as to discourage them from repeating the offense. The money accrued
from the fine should then be used for research and other related programs,
including helping those that are infected.
All in all, AIDS is an epidemic that is
a part of the nineties. It is scary, but it must be dealt with. If the
proper precautions are taken, then eventually it will be taken care of
in the right way. However, there will unfortunately always be those that
have malice towards society and insist upon spreading their pain and suffering.