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JAMA Commentary Opposes Criminal Punishment for HIV Exposure/Transmission
Date:8/4/2008

Authors to Discuss Issue at International AIDS Conference, August 3-8

CHICAGO, Aug. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Criminal punishment for exposure to or transmission of HIV does nothing to reduce the spread of the virus. Instead, it increases stigma and drives people away from accessing care, while disproportionately burdening women and other vulnerable groups who are unable to disclose their HIV status to partners for fear of violence, according to a commentary in the August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Criminalization is becoming common around the world. In June, a Swiss court ruled that a person unaware he was infected with HIV, though aware that a former partner was infected, was criminally liable for having unprotected sex with a later partner who became infected. In May, a Texas court sentenced a man with HIV to 35 years in prison for spitting on a police officer, although the chances that the officer was exposed to the virus were virtually zero. Some laws expressly include pregnant women, putting them at risk of being prosecuted for exposing their unborn infants to HIV.

Anxiety about the negative effects of criminalization is growing, and opposition to it will be a prominent feature of the International AIDS Conference, August 3-8 in Mexico City.

The commentary is authored by Scott Burris, a Temple University Beasley School of Law professor and associate director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health; and internationally recognized AIDS activist Edwin Cameron, a Justice of the South African Supreme Court of Appeals and the first public official in Africa to publicly reveal that he is living with HIV. Michaela Clayton, director of AIDS and Rights Alliance for South Africa (ARASA) also contributed to the article.

"The central problem of criminalization is drawing the line between criminal and noncriminal behavior," the authors write.
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SOURCE Temple University Law professor Scott Burris
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