Letter of the Day | JASL supports California’s bold step
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 stigma-free 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