Table of Contents
Brief history of AIDS and the criminalization of knowingly
Interviews concerning the issue……………………….4
Reasons for the criminalization of knowingly transmitting
Reasons against the criminalization of knowingly
My position and conclusion……………………………8
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.