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 Transmitting AIDS
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 a crime.
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.