To the editor:
The Deseret News is correct in stating that unless privacy of AIDS test results is guaranteed, individuals who may be infected may not come forward to be tested out of fear of discrimination and harassment.However, the Deseret News proposes legislation to shoot holes in this confidentiality for the peace of mind of individuals "where there is reason to believe a possible AIDS carrier has deliberately infected an innocent person."
A police officer bitten by a suspect was cited as a good example of someone for whom confidentiality laws should be violated.
There are several flaws in this notion.
First, it is of no use to someone who is afraid he may have been infected to have someone else tested.
As inconvenient as it may be for the police officer to follow the protocol of testing and safe sex practices for six months to a year, it is the only means of peace of mind. Whether the suspect tests positive or negative for AIDS does nothing to indicate whether the police officer has contracted the virus.
Peace of mind obtained from testing someone else is false security, even if one does not consider the prevalence of false positives and false negatives to which such testing is prone. (The fact that no one has contracted AIDS from being bitten is another issue.)
Secondly, exceptions to confidentiality for individuals who could be prosecuted for "deliberately infecting an innocent person" would undermine public heath efforts to control this disease.
What would be more likely to deter high risk populations from being tested, particularly individuals who have a higher risk of arrest for drug-related or sex-related offenses, if prior knowledge of HIV status would results in harsher sentencing?
For example, if test results are used for pressing aggravated charges, high risk individuals, who most desperately need to be tested and counseled, are likely to say, "If I'm not tested, they can't say I did it knowingly."
Thus, public health efforts to control the epidemic are sabotaged for the sake of someone's misguided striving for peace of mind and personal convenience.
Legislators and health officials should continue working on public health policy that will be most effective in curtailing this terrible disease, including prevention, public education, and confidentiality and anti-discrimination legislation.
In the case of the AIDS epidemic, good public health policy and civil liberties concerns are mutually supportive.
Michele A. Parish-Pixler
American Civil Liberties Union of Utah