AIDS Disclosure Measures in
Alaska Draw Fire Of Activists
Anchorage Daily News

"I am not criminalizing the disease. I am criminalizing the conduct,"
State epidemiologists are proposing a regulation to make health-care providers and doctors report the names of people infected with HIV. And state Sen. Robin Taylor wants to make those infected tell sexual partners about their health status - or face a felony charge.
Both could scare people at risk of HIV away from being tested, activists say. People would miss early treatment that is proving effective in staving off deadly AIDS. And they might not take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.
The proposals are being fiercely debated.
"I think the biggest issue is that you are trusting a very vital piece of information about your life and your health to someone you don't know," DeeJay Johannessen, executive director of the AIDS Care Network, said about the HIV reporting proposal.
The two measures are unrelated. State public health officials, who are promoting the new HIV reporting rules, oppose the bill sponsored by Taylor. They, too, fear that it would steer people from testing.
Taylor, a Republican from Wrangell and candidate for governor, said he finds it ironic that public health officials would oppose his bill on the same grounds AIDS activists oppose the state's HIV reporting proposal.
He said 23 states have passed similar criminal measures, and some are prosecuting cases. He saw on "America's Most Wanted" a case about a HIV-positive man who had sex indiscriminately, which Taylor said is evidence that tougher laws are needed.
His bill would make it a felony for anyone with HIV to engage in "intimate contact" with another person. Because of the way the bill is written, Taylor said, a prosecutor would not file charges if the infected person had disclosed the condition.
The bill defines intimate contact as sexual penetration or any action that exposes bodily fluids in a manner that could spread the virus.
The bill does not require that the other person become infected for a felony to have been committed or that the HIV-infected person intended to cause harm. The measure passed the Senate last year and is now before the House Health, Education and Social Services Committee.
"I am not criminalizing the disease. I am criminalizing the conduct," Taylor said.
At a legislative hearing last week, AIDS activists came out in force to argue against it. One said it appeals to "bullies, bigots and bashers."
Public health officials said the bill is not needed. If someone intends to spread HIV, the state already can make a criminal case. The best protections against the spread of HIV, say health officials, are condoms, sterile needles and precautions around bodily fluids. Taylor said the reality is that people don't follow those guidelines when it comes to sex. "Silly doctor," is how he described state epidemiologist John Middaugh.
The senator said he's not trying to outlaw sex among people with HIV.
"I just ask that they have the common decency to notify their sexual partners before they engage in an act that will sexually transmit a deadly disease," he said. Johannessen of the AIDS network said he worries that if the state starts collecting names, as the epidemiologists propose, the Legislature might pass a new law that allows the information to be released - perhaps to aid in implementing Taylor's bill. The next time he gets tested for HIV, he said, he'll do so anonymously.
The names of people with AIDS must be reported to the state, as do those with other sexually transmitted diseases or tuberculosis. People infected with HIV who have not progressed to full-blown AIDS do not have to be reported.
As of the end of 1997, state officials knew of 412 Alaskans diagnosed with AIDS. Of those, 202 had died.
Twenty-eight states collect the names of HIV-positive individuals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging a national HIV reporting effort. Early findings from one nine-state study by the CDC didn't find that HIV reporting kept large numbers of people from being tested.
But Johannessen said other studies challenge the state's conclusion that testing won't plummet.

Email Homepage