HIV Disclosure Laws

I read a fascinating article today addressing laws about disclosing your HIV status and the criminal penalties for failing to do so when risking exposure to other people. I started to just share the article to Facebook, but then I realized I had a lot of thoughts swirling around my head about it, so I opted to post here instead.

Let’s discuss.

The original article is entitled “Sex, Lies and HIV: When What You Don’t Tell Your Partner Is a Crime” and is a fascinating and detailed exploration of a really complex subject. I’m intrigued but don’t know how to react.

I think knowingly and intentionally exposing someone to HIV is a horrible act. Trying to infect someone with a disease is a deliberate attack against them, and should be treated accordingly.

But the specific case here was very different: the HIV+ man was taking medication that reduced his viral load to undetectable levels and he used a condom, which together make the risk negligible. He shouldn’t have lied to his partner when asked about his HIV status, but it’s telling that he was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison for not disclosing his HIV status and the maximum penalty for sexually abusing a child, according to this article, is only 10 years. Assuming all of that is correct, there’s obviously a very strong bias at work here.

I was also intrigued by the discussion around laws like this motivating people to not learn their HIV status, so they can avoid prosecution by not knowing they were positive. The effects of that would be awful: by not knowing you’re positive, you’re not getting treatment that can improve your health and reduce the risk of transmission to others, and you may be lowering your own motivation to use condoms. But is that really a concern? Would people rather deliberately not find out about their health issues so that they can go on having sex with whomever they want (potentially unknowingly infecting others) without risking prosecution? Are people that short-sighted and selfish?

It’s a complex issue, to be sure. It’s most definitely not okay to knowingly put someone at risk without them knowing the facts as you know them. Yes, everyone should assume that their sexual partners are HIV+ and take precautions accordingly, but if you are positive I feel you owe it to disclose that before having sex, as a moral obligation if not a legal one.

Having said that, these laws smack of irrational fear and prejudice, and the potential to be misused against people and for unintended consequences seems extremely high.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

One Response to HIV Disclosure Laws

  1. Jeannette Ross says:

    When it comes to things that are potentially **life-changing**, ignorance is never bliss. Whether it’s “I don’t want to look too closely at my daughter’s social life – I’m afraid of what I might find” (huh?) or “I think my spouse is cheating on me, but I don’t want to know for sure” (huh??), or in your article’s example “I’m not sure if I am HIV+, but don’t want to know for sure so I don’t get sued” (huh???)… and I’m sure there are a zillion other examples we could legitimately cite here.

    We all need to be reminded from time to time, that what you don’t know CAN hurt you… not to mention those close to you.

    All of us… every single one of us… are only one bad decision away from ruining our lives.

    This screams of the importance of having a strong support structure – whether its family, friends, co-workers – people we can trust with anything and everything. These are the ones that can talk some sense into us when we clearly aren’t making any of our own at the moment. It happens. We all have those moments when, in our own heads, we have perfectly justified our decisions/actions. I have plenty of those moments to reflect on, and am eternally grateful for the person who gave me the “Wow, I coulda had a V8” moment instead.

    Help each other people… the life you save may be your own.

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