The Hill's Congress Blog (11.06.12)
Sonia Gupta, founder and CEO of United Against Infectious Diseases, writes that currently the laws and policies regarding HIV vary throughout the United States. She traces the history of the disease from 1981 to the present, and how laws were shaped in response to knowledge or lack of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Gupta states that laws are critical in designing and shaping the nation’s approach to the disease. She regards the laws as a direct reflection of the nation’s standards, values, and outlook, and believes laws can positively or negatively influence the HIV prevalence rate and level of discrimination.
Gupta examines the various laws and policies on HIV/AIDS in the United States and proposes that the criminalization of HIV through laws may help perpetuate the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. She endorses the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal HIV Discrimination ACT (REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act)—introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)— as an important opportunity to review all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations that promote criminal prosecution of people for HIV-related issues. Gupta explains why changing these laws are necessary to stop or prevent further criminalizing of HIV transmission based on exposure to the disease. She notes that many of these laws were adopted before there was effective treatment for HIV and that the laws need to be revised and updated based on new knowledge and medical advances.
Gupta lists reasons for changing the laws—including criminalization and punishment in cases where there was not intentional transmission, in contradiction of the UNAIDS policy brief on “Criminalization of HIV Transmission.” She cites specific examples of how state laws criminalize HIV-infected persons, including ignoring the use of male or female condoms in state laws as evidence that the transmission was unintentional and treating the body fluids of HIV-positive individuals as a “deadly weapon,” which causes them to be charged for aggravated assault, attempted murder, and even bioterrorism. Also, studies show that HIV-specific laws do not have significant effect on the behavior of people with or at risk of contracting HIV.
Gupta states that criminalizing HIV exposure or transmissions is not beneficial as it does not reduce the spread of the disease. It undermines prevention efforts; promotes fear and stigma that may propel individuals away from testing, counseling, and support; endangers and oppresses women; is drafted and applied too broadly and unfairly; punishes behavior that is not to blame; and ignores the real challenges of HIV prevention. She notes that the Global Commission on HIV and the Law and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors have taken steps to address HIV discrimination through the law and encourages readers to support the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act as a means of removing HIV discrimination from the US legal system.