Chinese Lawmakers Propose Bills That Would Criminalize Spreading HIV
A recent bill proposed in China that would make spreading HIV a criminal offense is "the latest in a series" of laws fueled by "public panic" that aim to "control the spread of [HIV] largely through circumscribing the lives of those who suffer from it," the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, two groups of deputies proposed bills that would make "knowingly spreading" HIV a criminal offense punishable by seven to 15 years in prison or possible life imprisonment for "serious cases" (Chang, Wall Street Journal, 3/23). Deputies from southern Guangdong also called for the establishment of a "concentration camp for AIDS sufferers from home and abroad" in order to "curb the spread" of the disease, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 3/14). These and similar measures have not been mandated by the Chinese government, but requested by the public, which has erupted in a "panic" after reading "alarmist reports" in the Chinese media detailing the spread of HIV in the country. Health officials and AIDS activists oppose laws penalizing AIDS patients, stating that they will only "worsen discrimination, discourage people from getting tested" for HIV and "feed the myth that the disease can be eradicated through punishing the few rather than educating the many." Health officials feel that better prevention campaigns will do more to quell the spread of the virus than punitive measures would. Zhang Ke, a doctor at Beijing's Youan Hospital, said, "To teach people to use condoms would be so much more useful than these laws. This is a backward step."
Many Chinese localities have already passed laws that limit the opportunities available to HIV-positive individuals. The city of Chengdu, for example, recently passed a law that would require people working in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, public baths, swimming pools and beauty salons to undergo annual testing for HIV and other STDs. The law, which takes effect in May, would require any workers with a positive test to stop working and also forbids individuals with HIV or other STDs from marrying. In Beijing, employers and individuals are urged to report any "suspected AIDS patients" to local health authorities and testing is required for "prostitutes, their clients or possible spreaders of AIDS" who are apprehended by police or the courts. A Shenyang law states that AIDS patients "should undergo segregated medical treatment," which could possibly be "forcibly implemented by the public security authorities," and the province of Hebei forbids people with STDs from joining the military, entering school, getting married or working in the child care, food-related or service industries.
Public vs. Government
The public "clamo[r]" for such measures seems to be "at odds" with the Chinese government, which is "moving closer to international norms" on rights for HIV-positive individuals, the Journal reports. A 1998 Ministry of Health report emphasizes the need for "confidentiality and the guarantee of individual rights" for AIDS patients, stating that HIV-positive individuals have the right to work, attend school, obtain medical treatment and participate in social activities. The ministry recommends that AIDS patients "delay" marriage and that HIV-positive individuals "seek a medical opinion" before getting married, but does not prohibit either group from marrying. Wan Yanhai, an activist who heads the AIDS Action Project, said, "What the Ministry of Health wants is a protective law, a tolerant law. But what society wants is a punishment law." Health officials concluded that additional steps emphasizing punishment over prevention will only "detract from efforts to fight the disease" (Wall Street Journal, 3/23).