California bill trivializes severity of HIV transmission


Elad Gov-Ari

A poisonous injection is not a misdemeanor. It’s a felony that can result in incarceration of 20+ years. Surely transmitting HIV without informing the other party is a felony as well? With the outrageous signing of SB 239, California has deemed it a misdemeanor, lowering the punishment for a terrible offense.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill Oct. 7. His reasoning behind this audacious law, Brown says, is to transform the HIV virus from a criminal act to a public health issue.
In concept, Brown’s initiative is commendable in that he is trying to decriminalize victims of the virus. On the other hand, reducing the penalty for this heinous act is unacceptable in a society that has fought so hard to cleanse its people of the everlasting disease.
In fact, HIV is dangerous enough to receive major recognition. In 1983, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) designated the virus as an epidemic. HIV, contracted primarily by gay men in 1981, was only labeled a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in 1983, two years after its outbreak. HIV transmits solely through bodily secretion, most commonly sexual intercourse, and lives permanently in the body causing an impaired immune system that fails to filter out diseases if not properly cared for.
Despite having a major decline in cases from the late 1980s, the rate of HIV transmission from 2005, according to the CDC, has remained fairly constant during the past 15 years. With no progress in containment, Brown’s bill is not only a step in the wrong direction but a public disgrace.
With this in mind, SB 239 is simply unacceptable. Science has shown how HIV can affect our basic immune functions. It’s simply ridiculous to lower the repercussions of transmitting such a deadly, life-changing disease, and how we are inadvertently allowing it to grow again.
This bill fails to respect the act of transmission as what it is: careless and unacceptable. From medical bills to illnesses, contraction of the HIV virus is not only a lifestyle change, but a general calamity toward a person’s social life, self-esteem and, obviously, health. With care, a victim can lead a normal lifestyle, but why subject someone to such hardships? HIV is truly a destructor and needs to be handled as such.
For the past 30 years, the affected have battled their conditions, and some have worked extremely hard to raise awareness about their hardships. And while acknowledging the victims as victims and not criminals is important, taking every preventative measure to ensure discouragement is needed.
If there is a lack of legal discouragement regarding HIV transmission, we will see many more cases like that of actor Charlie Sheen, who, in November of 2015, announced that he’s HIV positive and had known of his condition for years. He also admitted to having unprotected sex with two people since being diagnosed.
Although he claims it’s impossible that he transmitted the disease, such negligence when it comes to other people’s well-being is deserving of a felony charge.
Unfortunately, the law has also ruled a number of people infected with HIV guilty of purposefully spreading the virus, including Missouri native David Mangum, who told authorities in 2013 that he had had sexual contact with up to 300 people despite knowing that he was HIV-positive. Mangum received a sentence of 30 years for his crime, which he is rightfully serving.
In Mangum’s case, he intentionally endangered 300 innocent people with a virus which could’ve ruined lives forever. Keeping this shocking instance in mind, a misdemeanor penalty is simply too lenient. The previous laws did not bar two individuals in engaging in sexual acts. It mandated the knowledgeable consent of both individuals. If one party fails to notify the other of the virus, harsh penalties should fall upon the transmitter. The concept of ruining a life and simply receiving a misdemeanor for it is abhorrent.
With contemporary knowledge of the weight of the disease, we as Americans should not be easing up on protecting our citizens, even if California decides to make it a misdemeanor. Knowledge and treatment has come a long way, especially with diseases like HIV.