JASL sup­ports Cal­i­for­nia’s bold step

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THE EDI­TOR, Sir:

THE IS­SUE of wil­ful trans­mis­sion of the hu­man im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus (HIV) is one that has come up for dis­cus­sion on Ja­maica’s leg­isla­tive agenda in the re­cent par­lia­men­tary sit­ting look­ing at the Sex­ual Of­fences and re­lated acts. It is a very sen­si­tive is­sue as it raises many ques­tions. Should one be al­lowed to wil­fully trans­mit a com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease to an­other with­out be­ing held re­spon­si­ble? If no, why? If yes, what does be­ing held re­spon­si­ble look like?

Cal­i­for­nia Gov Jerry Brown signed a bill last Fri­day that low­ers from a felony to a mis­de­meanour the crime of know­ingly ex­pos­ing a sex­ual part­ner to HIV with­out dis­clos­ing the in­fec­tion. In his dis­course, Sen Scott Wiener and Assem­bly­man Todd Glo­ria, au­thors of the bill, rightly said, “Mod­ern medicine al­lows those with HIV to live longer lives and nearly elim­i­nates the pos­si­bil­ity of trans­mis­sion. To­day Cal­i­for­nia took a ma­jor step to­wards treat­ing HIV as a public-health is­sue, in­stead of treat­ing peo­ple liv­ing with HIV as crim­i­nals.”

The Ja­maica AIDS Sup­port for Life (JASL) sup­ports this move by the leg­is­la­tors in Cal­i­for­nia and urges our Govern­ment not to go the route that oth­ers have tried with no suc­cess. Wil­ful trans­mis­sion of HIV is cur­rently an of­fence at com­mon law in Ja­maica, but the dis­cus­sions are around giv­ing statu­tory foot­ing to same. This means in­stead of de­pend­ing on prece­dents set in case law the pro­po­nents of fur­ther crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion wants an act passed that ex­plic­itly states that it is an of­fence to wil­fully trans­mit HIV. The Cal­i­for­nian au­thor­i­ties have iden­ti­fied that such a law does de­ter peo­ple from com­ing for­ward for test­ing as with­out a test, they could not be charged, and this is one of the very rea­sons JASL have ob­jected to leg­isla­tive changes in that di­rec­tion. Let us not take any ac­tion that will fur­ther stig­ma­tise a group that is al­ready heav­ily stig­ma­tised and dis­crim­i­nated against. Let us not take any ac­tion that will re­duce the gains we have made with the num­ber of per­sons liv­ing with HIV who are aware of their sta­tus mov­ing from less than 50 per cent to over 80 per cent.

COME FOR­WARD FOR TEST­ING

What our leg­is­la­tors should do is sup­port end­ing new in­fec­tions by get­ting peo­ple to come for­ward for test­ing and pro­vide stig­mafree and non-dis­crim­i­na­tory ac­cess to qual­ity care, rather than threat­en­ing with crim­i­nal penal­ties. What all in­di­vid­u­als should do is start tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own lives. Ev­ery per­son who en­gages in sex­ual in­ter­course ex­cept in in­stances of rape, which is a crim­i­nal of­fence, make a choice to do that, so, that choice of hav­ing pro­tected or un­pro­tected sex is what de­ter­mines what you are now ex­posed to.

Let us not open up the floodgates for mak­ing crim­i­nals of all per­sons with com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, but in­stead cre­ate a so­ci­ety in which such per­sons can be re­spected, cared for, given ac­cess to the treat­ment they re­quire, and rid our so­ci­ety of these ill­nesses. When all the sys­tems are in place and prop­erly func­tion­ing to al­low for ac­cess to all, then the law as it now stands can deal with those who de­vi­ate. JA­MAICA AIDS SUP­PORT FOR LIFE Kingston 20

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