Criminalizing AIDS Transmission
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by the
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus was
discovered 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
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. 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, argued 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 received 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 venereal disease is a felony. However, at that time,
and currently, AIDS was not classified as a venereal
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
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
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.
There are not many reasons for the criminalization of
knowingly transmitting AIDS, however, they are very
The first and one of the most convincing arguments is that
it will help stop the propagation 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
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
The Constitutional argument that is presented 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
There are many more reasons against the criminalization of
willingly transmitting AIDS to other, 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 eradicate the epidemic, criminalization
would instill more fear among the people living with HIV.
"It would create a witch hunt atmosphere," stated William
Ramiez, 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.
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.