Aids – the Duty to Warn

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The AIDS epidemic began in the early to mid-1980’s and since it’s recognition in America it has become a very heated and debated topic among health professionals, the gay community, and most of all for the ones that are carrying the virus. The real debate is not over the virus itself but, rather about the infected individuals and whether or not they should be made morally obligated to tell their sexual partners if they are in fact infected.

Both sides of the argument make very valid points. From one standpoint you have the gay community that believe in “safer sex ethic”, which keeps their partners in the dark about their overall health status and feel they are not morally obligated to tell their partners if they are practicing “safe sex”. In contrast to this, the other side of the argument claim that infected individuals is absolutely morally obligated to tell their partners before engaging in sexual activities.

One of the major supporters of this are the healthcare professionals who have to assume the position from the “harm principle”; which requires a health professional to warn a third party if they are aware that their infected patient has not informed their partner and they are engaging in sexual relations with intent to harm the other person. I personally agree with this viewpoint and believe that any individual who engages in sexual activity with their partner are ethically and morally obligated to tell them if they are aware that they are in fact carrying the HIV/AIDS virus.

From the begging the homosexual male and the gay community were rejected in America and have isolated themselves into this secret society separated from the norm of traditional heterosexual monogamy. These isolated communities centered on its erotophilic values have been forced to face a disease that does not discriminate and has become an epidemic. The HIV/AIDS virus has affected the gay community is such a way it has, “forced gay men to rethink their sexual practices” (Ainslie, 1999).

From this, a majority of the gay community has adopted the “safe sex” practice and therefor, do not inform their partners of their overall health “status” as long as they are practicing safe sex and not deliberately spreading the disease. This viewpoint has allowed the gay community to argue against the moral responsibility pressures of informing their partners when engaging in sexual relations and keep the individual confidentiality intact.

In other words, “each person is encouraged to think of all of his partners as potentially infectious and to act accordingly” (Ainslie, 1999). The other side of this argument has concluded that this form of “safe sex” is nothing more than a sad, moral breakdown of mutual respect and lack of concern for the other person (1999). According to Ronald Bayer, this sort of ethical belief within the gay community is nothing more than “asocial individualism” and the only way this epidemic will end with HIV/AIDS is to adopt a “culture of restraint and responsibility” (Ainslie, 1999).

With that stated, one of the most fundamental aspects of this argument lies within the medical professional’s duty to warn if they acquire information that a patient of theirs has intent to harm a third party. Clearly then one can see how a patients confidentiality has limits and a medical professional is then obligated under the harm principle to tell the third party about the intent of their patient. Case in point was the Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, in which an individual told his psychologist that he intended to kill his girlfriend and then carried out his plan without the psychologist doing anything to prevent it.

The court held the psychologist responsible for the murder of his girlfriend and for not informing of the intent to harm. I believe Justice Tobriner said it best, “the protective privilege ends where the public peril begins. ” Overall, both sides of the argument make very valid points when it comes to patient/partner confidentiality, autonomy, and the moral obligation of the individuals who willing know that they are infected with HIV/AIDS to tell their sexual partner.

As stated before, I firmly believe that any individual who engages in sexual activity with a partner are ethically and morally obligated to tell them if they are aware that they are in fact carrying the HIV/AIDS virus. To me, this is a very important aspect to help in the prevention and control of the deadly epidemic of the HIV/AIDS virus. Quite simply put, “the individual who knows that he is HIV seropositive or who has reason to believe that he may be, has a moral duty to forewarn prospective partners of his HIV status and is responsible for their fate if he does not”

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