Human rights. It has become a curious notion, that some take for granted
as if bestowed on humanity from mountain tops. Others, however, recognize
that human rights are principles or ideals that come with great struggle
and are intended to address injustice, not create further harm. The issue
of rights was addressed on January 17 by Dr. Udo Schuklenk in his posting "Patient confidentiality in
He writes that the Supreme Court of India in a recent judgement "suspended
an HIV positive individuals right to marry." Dr. Schuklenk goes on to state
that the person in question "suffered embarrassment and was ostracized
by the community." I know nothing more about the details of this case,
and so am commenting about the issues Dr. Schuklenk's raised, and not the
veracity of the posting.
Studies of HIV discordant couples have repeatedly demonstrated the high
risk that the susceptible partners experience when married to HIV infected
persons. This risk becomes even greater if the susceptible partner is unaware
of the virus, and knows not to regularly use condoms, avoid intercourse,
or withdraw during intercourse. So who protects the right of the person
who the infected individual plans to marry?
This seems to be the issue that the Supreme Court of India was reported
to have addressed. Should HIV infection be left to fate, or should governments
intrude, striving to prevent transmission and avoid further harm? It seems
clear that HIV positive people suffer from being infected. The solution
to this suffering, however, is not to hide the disease from view so that
future spouses becomes infected, but rather to address the problem in a
For example, I would support Dr. Schuklenk if his comments focused on
preventing ostracism of people with HIV/AIDS, or encouraged courts to strengthen
legislation that prevents termination from jobs or refusal by medical personnel
to provide support and care. These are important rights that HIV infected
people should be allowed to share with others in the society.
to marry, however, is a more difficult issue, especially troublesome if
there is no disclosure and education on ways to avoid infecting present
or future spouses who are susceptible to the virus. Infection and death
are high prices to pay for the rights that were mentioned in Dr. Schuklenk's
posting. We can do better.