A group of California lawmakers have proposed legislation that would make it no longer a felony for an HIV-positive individual to knowingly expose others to the disease by not disclosing their HIV status and engaging in unprotected sex.
The new legislation would make such acts a misdemeanor. The measure was written by state Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) with Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) and Assemblymen Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco).
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“HIV-related stigma is one of our main obstacles to reducing and ultimately eliminating infections,” Wiener said. “When you criminalize HIV or stigmatize people who have HIV it encourages people not to get tested, to stay in the shadows, not to be open about their status, not to seek treatment.”
Legislators who support the measure say medicine has made the current law unfair.
“These laws are absolutely discriminatory. No other serious infectious disease is treated this way. HIV was signaled out,” said Wiener, who wrote the legislation with Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) and Assemblymen Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco).
They noted that someone can be charged with a felony even if the medicine they are taking makes them virally suppressed, which means it is unlikely they would pass the infection to another person.
“Current state law related to those living with HIV is unfair because it is based on the fear and ignorance of a bygone era,” Gloria said. “With this legislation, California takes an important step to update our laws to reflect the medical advances which no longer make a positive diagnosis equal to a death sentence."
The proposed legislation also has its opponents.
Opponents of the bill, including state Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta), say knowingly exposing others to a life-altering disease should remain a felony.
“HIV/AIDS remains a deadly disease,” Stone, a pharmacist, said in a statement. “Existing law provides accountability of those engaging in unprotected, risky behavior that endangers the life of another.”
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) said the availability of medicines that can prolong life does not change the major impact an HIV-positive diagnosis has on a person’s life.
“While we have come a long way with AIDS, you still have to take drugs for the rest of your life. You still have to bear the burden of the costs of the health care,” Anderson said. “I get that this is the only disease that is treated that way, but I think any disease that you inflict on somebody against their will that permanently changes them should be a felony.”
Anderson said he would be willing to address the discrimination issue by adding other diseases to the list whose intentional spreading is a felony.Hep C, anyone? If you share a dirty needle, you go to jail. At least you would be less likely to infect another.
He challenged the argument that the law change is needed because otherwise some people will not get tested and will continue spreading the disease.
“Because they are so disrespectful of the people they are willing to engage in a sexual act with and risk their life, that is the reason why they need to go to prison,” Anderson said. “They can’t be trusted in society as a responsible person.”
TheChurchMilitant: Sometimes anti-social, but always anti-fascist since 2005.