Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bill's latest proposal

Former President Bill Clinton has a proposal out there for other countries that sounds reasonable, but fails the 'would we want it here?' test.

The proposal which he made this week, calls for mandatory HIV testing in poor countries.

LONDON - Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday called for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS in countries with high infection rates and the means to provide lifesaving drugs.

When the AIDS epidemic began two decades ago, mandatory testing was frowned on because of the stigma attached to the deadly illness and the lack of treatment for those infected.

But Clinton said countries where there was no discrimination against people with the illness and where anti-AIDS drugs were available should now consider universal testing.

Now, I can see what he is saying, inasmuch as these countries have very little in the way of resources to fight what is now becoming an epidemic. This would allow the governments there to focus what resources they have on preventing new cases by personally counseling (dare we say monitoring)? people who test HIV positive, and giving them medical care before they develop fullblown AIDS.

I can see what he is saying, but he is fundamentally wrong.

First, even if you find a country where there is no stigma attached to being HIV positive (and I don't believe there is one anywhere in the world yet), don't you think that this would re-stigmatize it? There would be one group of people who could only engage in sexual activity with other members of the same group. And then how would they be identified for the benefit of the 'pure' people? Would they have to wear a badge? How about a yellow star of David? Because that is in effect what this could become, especially if a regime took power in one of these countries that wanted to find a group to scapegoat. We've seen how quickly freedoms can be lost, and freedoms that are signed away with the stroke of a pen will probably never be regained, and if so it will be after years of grudging small steps back by the government (and honestly, Bill Clinton was no better on civil liberties than George W. Bush is; we haven't had a President who really protected individual rights vs. the state since Jimmy Carter).

Here in America, where we now see employees and others having to submit to mandatory drug testing, polygraph tests and other conditions, and in which we have little other than the good word of those administering the tests and the anti-hacking division of Microsoft to protect us, privacy and freedom are under assault. A mandatory HIV test, for anyone and for any reason would be an enormous violation of privacy. It may be warranted in extreme cases (for example, a rapist) but it should certainly not be mandatory for everyone, or even for all but those few people for whom a compellingly urgent case can be made.

What we can do, is provide resources to these poor countries (as we would have to anyway under Clinton's proposal) to help them be able to offer HIV testing to everyone, and to encourage it, including by offering the test itself at no charge. But don't require it.

And we should do the same here.

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