HIV: Responsibility of Consent

mixedpartnership” But remember, even if you have a low viral load, you can still transmit HIV to your sex partner.” – Aids.gov

A topic of conversation had come up in the comment section on a popular blog recently as whether or not someone who is knowingly infected with the HIV virus has a responsibility to inform a potential sex partner. I had thought this to be a ‘no-brainer,’ but apparently there is some contention that has led to some rather heated interactions. It has been put forth by a certain individual(s) that the uninfected partner bears the responsibility to ask if the other is infected.

Furthermore…

If the uninfected partner does not ask, and becomes infected as a result, this is not only their fault but there should be no ramifications (either socially, legally or criminally) against the infected partner. As well, it had also been put forth that any requirement for the infected person to inform a potential uninfected partner is discriminatory against the one infected.

The blog post on “Crommunist” (Freethought Blogs) was not written by Crommunist, himself, but by a writer named Haifisch Geweint. It was presented in commemoration of World Aids Day. His point of view was questioned almost immediately, and in response to the request for clarification, Mr. Geweint replied with,

HG1

The response to this was almost immediate, coming from another commenter, who stated,

HG2

What followed was a rather heated and lengthily discussion. Part of this discussion included the topic of viral loads, advancements in treatment, etc. Regarding viral loads, Communist offered the following,

HG3

Being a skeptic, I checked with a few sources on this, and while I had found a few sites that offered statistical probabilities, the aids.gov website stated the obvious:

“But remember, even if you have a low viral load, you can still transmit HIV to your sex partner.”

Stigma…

There is, no doubt, an unwarranted stigma toward people with HIV. LGBT activists still have a long way to go to assuage the fears that many people have toward those who are HIV positive. There is a lot of truly hateful commentary out there that is directed toward the HIV+ community, along with unfounded fears and much information as to how HIV is contracted and spread. There is also a lot of ignorance regarding treatment, containment and interacting with the HIV+.

I am not without practical experience in this matter. My brother-in-law died from the complications of AIDS back when there was even less known about the disease. He was not just my brother-in-law, but my friend, as well. In fact, I had introduced him to my sister. Having to take this journey with him and my sister warranted that I had to learn a lot about HIV, AIDS and the related symptoms thereof. As well, it was quite some time before we were sure that my sister and my niece, with whom my sister was pregnant with when my brother-in-law was diagnosed were not infected.

My education on the subject did not stop at his death. It continues to this day, and plays a large role in my work as an activist. I am dismayed that almost twenty years later, much of the same ignorance is still pervasive.

Criminal Liability…

Regarding criminal liability, there are laws allowing for being convicted of the criminal transmission of HIV if you cause someone be infected intentionally and/or knowingly. If you have been diagnosed with HIV and then have sex with someone without telling them you are HIV+, can be convicted if that person becomes infected. To be convicted, a prosecutor has to prove that the HIV+ person knew their status.

In the United States, some states have laws that do not allow for prosecution as long as those who are infected tell their potential partners that they are HIV+ and consent is given. Other states don’t have an informed consent exception. This means that the HIV+ individual can be convicted of the criminal transmission of an STD whether or not their partner knows and consents.

The penalties for this crime include, but are not limited to prison, fines, restitution, probation and being registered as a sex offender.

Back On Point…

So, to get back to the issue of responsibility of consent, I put forth these two questions:

  1. Who has the responsibility regarding informed consent, the infected partner or the uninfected partner?
  2. Is it discriminatory against the HIV+ to be required to inform their partner(s) of their HIV status?

What say ye?


  7 comments for “HIV: Responsibility of Consent

  1. December 9, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Hey Al.

    As a gay man myself. I feel that I would expect someone who is positive to tell me of their status. I have nothing against being positive, I would just like the option to choose whether I sleep with someone and put myself at any form of risk.

    It’s not discriminatory against the positive person to be required, no. But there have been incidents in the past where people have knowingly gone and slept with people without protection and infected people. Which I feel is completely disgusting and immoral to do that.

  2. December 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

    1. The infected partner.

    2. It’s not discriminating if that means being a bigot, but in the sense that one must discriminate for oneself what is safe to do and what is unsafe, it’s totally reasonable to turn down sex that one would have otherwise gone for, due to fear of catching HIV+. Like you pointed out, it’s not a zero risk even when viral loads are low.

    If a positive person gets turned down due to revealing their status, or has their feelings hurt, too bad. Neither getting laid that night nor preventing hurt feelings by reminding the person they have a contagious disease, should take priority over the other person’s right to make a fully informed decision of consent on a matter which could potentially kill them.

  3. December 9, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I agree with your first reaction – to me, this is a no-brainer. The infected partner has a moral responsibility to inform the uninfected partner of the possibility of being infected with a potentially deadly STD. I oppose discrimination against infected persons – but this responsibility is not discrimination – it’s an act of human decency. To NOT inform your partner is immoral, without regard to the legal system; it could be likened to a form of Russian Roulette!

  4. December 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    1. The infected partner and 2. No

    This should definitely be a “no-brainer”.

  5. December 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    DEFINITELY the infected partner. Discretion at that point would not be against the infected partner as discrimination but the part of the uninfected partner’s decision to either proceed or decline. Morally it would be wrong to discriminate based soley on a person’s state of health after the informed decision not to sexually participate. It really is a no-brainer, viral load notwithstanding. It is a tragic circumstance that this disease even exists, but face the reality that it DOES exist, and not being given the option to know your partner’s status is tantamount to murder, or attempted murder at the least. As for personal accountability, I try to always discuss health before even the first kiss.

  6. John Liesch
    December 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I would say that an infected person has a responsbility to inform potential partners, yes. Is it discriminatory to require the infected person to inform potential partners, no. Should we be using criminal law to deal with an infectious disease? I doubt murder charges will change infection rates. Why? According to the CDC, 1 in 5 infected persons do not know they are infected. There is a window period between the time someone is infected and when the tests can detect an infection (and this is when people are most infectious). Informed consent by itself cannot prevent infections and I would say that properly protecting oneself from becoming infected renders the disclosure question moot.

  7. dontgetexcited
    December 9, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    This seems to be an example of the world’s worst argument http://squid314.livejournal.com/323694.html. It’s like claiming it’s discriminatory when I choose no men or children among my sexual partners. Yeah, it’s discriminatory, so what? If you think you are entitled to not disclose something that may deleteriously affect your partner’s health or even life because they might “discriminate” against you, whether HIV, leprosy or drug-resistant tuberculosis, you are simply beneath contempt.

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