Column: The AIDS debate revisited

By Elie Dvorin

As many readers know, last week I wrote a column concerning the AIDS epidemic in this country, in which I suggested a quarantine proposal to combat the spread of the disease. What most readers apparently didn’t understand was that the column was mostly satirical in nature,   la Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and was meant to provoke a serious debate regarding the role of the government in combating the AIDS epidemic. Those that understood the satiric tone of my article began to debate the government’s role on a policy level. Those that didn’t recognize the satire criticized the proposal almost exclusively on moral grounds, which represents the most obvious and legitimate objection. Yet, almost nobody noted that enacting such a policy is impossible on practical grounds as well. It would require a complete overhaul of the Constitution and the government on all levels. As a small government proponent and fiscal conservative, I would also object to the magnitude and cost of any such action, even if it were possible.

Nonetheless, there are some extremely serious elements of the debate that need to be opened up to discussion. For example, in many of the letters I received, typical “solutions” were presented as being revolutionary. More condoms, more education, more money and more compassion were all put forth as ways to solve the AIDS problem. Surely we’ve come to the point where we realize that these ideas may help contain the virus to some extent, but fail horribly as “solutions.”

There are several reasons we as a nation are unwilling to combat AIDS with the ferocity we should. For one, the United States isn’t facing the crisis to the same extent of Africa and Asia. Too many people view AIDS as a global (read: foreign) problem and don’t have the sense of urgency that is needed to make any significant advancement.

Another reason people are relatively apathetic to AIDS is that unlike many other diseases that affect millions of U.S. citizens (cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, etc.), AIDS is almost always preventable. Granted, some children are born HIV positive and certain people are infected by bad blood transfusions, but the majority of AIDS patients could have been spared had they made better behavioral decisions. In the United States, the death rates of heart disease and cancer dwarf that of AIDS and should be research priorities for that reason alone.

At the risk of becoming even more unpopular, the government has a moral obligation to protect the uninfected population from the virus. Despite the fact that billions of dollars are being spent to combat AIDS each year, the disease is spreading and thousands of cases are showing up each year in the United States. A significant number of these new HIV cases are the result of some HIV-positive people knowingly spreading the disease by failing to disclose the fact that they are carriers. These individuals are criminals and must be held legally accountable for their actions. A serious and unrelenting attempt by the government to halt this type of conduct is absolutely necessary to decrease the number of new cases.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

As I mentioned last week, a public health risk the magnitude of AIDS may force us to examine the way we view certain civil liberties. Just as the September 11th attacks sparked a debate regarding the role of civil liberties in the war on terrorism (Patriot Act, etc.), a disease that has already killed more than half a million people in the United States may do the same. Unless a cure is discovered in the near future, millions will die and millions more will become infected, waiting to die.

I, unlike many of my critics, admit to not having all the answers to this pressing issue. There is a fine line every democratic society must walk, by caring for the diseased and protecting the uninfected. In the future some tough choices will have to be made if significant medical advancements are not.