The chairman of the White House AIDS commission recommended Thursday that federal laws be written to protect people infected with the AIDS virus from discrimination.
Retired Navy Adm. James D. Watkins included nearly 600 recommendations in a 269-page draft report to be considered by the full 13-member commission but told reporters the one on anti-discrimination overshadows all the rest."The foremost obstacle to progress raised was the discrimination faced by those with HIV," he said, referring to the virus that causes AIDS. "It was made clear to us that if the nation does not address this issue squarely, it will be very difficult to solve most other HIV-related problems."
Watkins' call for strong federal anti-discrimination laws for people with the AIDS virus runs counter to the official Reagan administration policy opposing such a federal standard. It came one day after the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine made a similar plea.
The commission chairman acknowledged the opposition, but said, "Times change" and expressed hope that the commission's stance would help overcome such opposition.
He said discrimination against people with the virus is "rampant" and that the problem is both "actual discrimination and fear of discrimination."
Eliminating discrimination, he said, "is the key to fighting the epidemic."
Watkins said he is confident the full commission will embrace most of his recommendations. He would prefer to see differences expressed in minority reports rather than watering down the main report.