Disagreement over criminalizing HIV transmission

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday July 30, 2010 – A motion seeking to prosecute an HIV infected person who deliberately spreads the virus has divided Guyana’s parliament, forcing the matter to be referred to a special select committee.

The motion, Criminal Responsibility of HIV Infected Individuals, was moved in the National Assembly by Guyana Action Party-Rise Organise and Rebuild (GAP-ROAR) MP, Everall Franklin, but opponents say it is misguided and misdirected.

In his opening presentation, Franklin said that just as there are laws to protect HIV-infected persons against discrimination and stigma, there should be laws to protect HIV-negative persons from being intentionally infected. 

“Is it not reasonable to propose that a person who know their HIV positive status, be held criminally responsible for using their sexual organs and their fluids as a deadly weapon?” Franklin asked.

His motion was supported by the Alliance For Change.

But Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said that criminalisation of HIV transmission is not proven to prevent the spread of the disease and merely encourages individuals not to get tested, and increases the stigma and discrimination against those who are tested positive. 

He added that this can lead to an increase in the spread of the disease by those who do not know their HIV status. 

“Stigma and discrimination have proven to be the powerful drives of the HIV epidemic. Most people living with HIV and know their status are taking measures to protect themselves and others,” he said, insisting that any motion that sets criminal penalties for HIV transmission and to force public disclosure of a person’s status is counter to the objectives of public health.     

“The fact is that criminalisation of HIV exposure risks undermining public health and human rights and as such it is not a solution,” the Health Minister maintained. 

He emphasised that in the instance where a person willfully transmits HIV with intent to cause harm, the matter calls for a comprehensive national dialogue, which can be deliberated at the level of the parliamentary special select committee.         

Dr Ramsammy therefore tabled an amendment to the motion to give effect to the formation of such a committee. 

That view was supported by the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR). Volda Lawrence said that criminalising HIV transmission could backfire and hurt the very persons whom it initially sought to protect.

She emphasised the need to devise a more productive and practical way in dealing with the disease. 

All Members of Parliament agreed that the motion be taken to a special select committee to be discussed further.