Saturday, August 09, 2008

Intl AIDS Conference Calls for Decriminalisation of HIV Transmission

Various activists, academics and politicians during the International AIDS Conference criticized that many countries these days criminalize HIV transmission. The argument is essentially that the law is a bad means to deploy in order to achieve public health objectives. One reason for criminalizing HIV transmission is of course the hope that one might be able to deter some infected people from having unsafe sex. The folks wanting to decriminalize HIV transmission believe that the deterrence effect doesn't work. Frankly, I cannot see how that could be demonstrated one way or another. The deterrence effect of the criminal law has been demonstrated time and again, so I wonder why we should buy into the claim that in the case of sex it doesn't work.

Hey, perhaps it doesn't, but if that is so, what's so terribly wrong with society deciding to punish someone who knowingly subjected someone else to the risk of catching a serious chronic illness? I could see that an argument could probably be made for sexual encounters among consenting adults that, say, pick each other up in a bar some night, where both volunteer to have unsafe sex, no deception re one's HIV status takes place, no questions are being asked and a transmission takes place. I think here we'd probably have a case of harm to self. At the very least we have a case where someone arguably consented to the risk of catching a sexually transmitted illness (as AIDS is). These sorts of happenstances seem to make up the bulk of transmissions and I have not yet seen anyone running to police in order to get their one-night-stand encounter prosecuted. By and large people accept responsibility for their conduct in such circumstances, and so they should.

Truth be told the few cases that have been prosecuted across the world had to do with folks who behaved overwhelmingly truly appallingly to their partners (and not in the sense of one-night stand partner, but in the sense of husband, wife, long-term boyfriend, long-term girlfriend). You know, stories like a 25 year old guy who knew to be HIV infected and insisted on not using condoms with his 15 year old girlfriend. I am at a loss why human rights types folks think that it is a bad idea to criminalize such conduct. For the sake of the argument, even if the deterrence effect of such punishment would really fail, why would it be so unjust to punish such conduct? What's so different about HIV and AIDS that we should not aim to police such harm to others?

One thing I find truly annoying about these campaigners: With a straight face they'd pronounce variously that we shouldn't 'criminalize HIV' or we shouldn't 'criminalize people with HIV'. It goes without saying that nobody anywhere in the world has as yet attempted to either criminalize HIV or people living with the virus. What people in most countries have been saying is this: if you got the bug and you behave in harmful ways towards uninfected people by means of subjecting them to unreasonable risks through reckless behavior, we will punish you. So, what is punished is the harmful conduct, not the virus itself or anyone who happens to be infected but behaves sensibly.


  1. whu just AIDS? why not punish people with TB who don't take their meds and go around coughing in other peoples faces? worried middle-class fuckwits who don't have their sprogs properly vaccinated are putting the health of third parties at risk so why not clap them in irons too?

  2. Ditto Udo


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Certainty is not a defensible standard for policy making in the context of assisted dying

I mentioned in a Bioethics editorial a while ago that new frontiers are opening in the assisted dying debate. As an increasing number of...