The ethics of AIDS/HIV Living with HIV

Shattering myths and misconceptions

Article Submitted by Cynthia Mahoney

Since its sudden appearance in the United States in 1981, The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has claimed at least four million lives worldwide and more than 250,000 lives in the United States. An estimated 21 percent of people living with HIV are undiagnosed. Although gay and bisexual men continue to bear the burden of this disease, more and more people are diagnosed every day.
Many germs, like those that cause the flu and strep throat, infect the lungs, throat and sinuses. These germs can be spread when someone coughs or sneezes in the air or when you touch an object with your hands. AIDS, on the other hand, infects your lymphocytes and white blood cells. In order to come in contact with this disease, you must come in contact with someone's infected body fluids.
Being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is not the same as having AIDS. However, it is a serious chronic infection that should be treated. Physicians and researchers are bewildered by this virus and try to understand how it affects the human body.
Scientists have now developed several medicines that may help stop the virus from spreading so rapidly, but many say that the AIDS epidemic shows no sign of slowing down. They do predict that they can help educate the public on prevention and treatments for patients. Because the public was unaware that you could not get AIDS through casual contact, many did not want to be around these patients or have their children go to school with people with AIDS.
Case in point is Ryan White, who was expelled from school because parents did not want their children around him, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who retired from basketball when he found out he was infected with HIV. With the increase of knowledge about this disease and further educating of the public, Johnson returned to his sport and was welcomed back by fans.
The fact of the matter is that not only can people live with this virus, but you also do not have to be afraid to speak about it with your peers, family members, and spouse or partner. It is recommended that you share this information with everyone you come in contact with if it is safe to do so.
From its outset, the AIDS/HIV epidemic has raised many ethical challenges for public health officials, clinicians and the general public, reaching from macro level policy to micro level clinical decisions. One ethical issue is to tell or not to tell. Because AIDS/HIV can be transmitted through sexual activity and by sharing drug equipment, you are judged by the public as well as by health and social providers. You are treated differently, or labeled a drug user or homosexual even if that is not the case.
There is an on-going struggle between ethics for the good of the public and fighting an individual's right to privacy. It involves the intense emotional struggle that affects the person who is infected with this disease and the ethical, intellectual approach to moral issues, evaluating the choices that people deal with and the aspects of everyday living.
The principles of ethics, in this case, has been covered in many writings. Balancing personal standards and professional standards, healthcare professionals must determine what is right for them. In either case, there is a constant need to weigh what is right and what is wrong. What may feel right for you, personally, may not be right within the standards and policies of the profession when it comes to protecting the rights of a person infected with the HIV virus.
The principle of autonomy assumes that everyone has the right to live their life as they wish, as long as their actions do not interfere with others. That can include telling the truth about your condition in order to be treated and limit the spread of disease. In addition, physicians and healthcare professionals must remember the principle of autonomy when taking action.
To create an enabling environment for all people with AIDS/HIV infection, the cycle of stigma and discrimination has to be broken. AIDS/HIV is far from being just a medical issue. People with this virus are often set apart and treated differently by employers and co-workers, labeled as being grossly different in a terribly negative way. In the workplace, AIDS/HIV education cannot prosper where the respect of a person is ignored. Therefore, avoid classifying the people you know based on their health status, sexual orientation, race, economic status or ethnicity. Once the public recognize the myths surrounding HIV and become educated, they will abandon their biases and support people living with the AIDS/HIV virus. Respecting human rights is something that is deserved by everyone and should be expected of all people.