Medical experts in Michigan say reducing the stigma of HIV is key to stopping the spread of the disease.
A package of bills in the state Legislature would update the state’s laws. That would include changing the criminal penalty for someone who doesn’t disclose they have HIV to a sexual partner. Right now it’s a felony to not disclose – even if the partner doesn’t get HIV. The bill would make it a misdemeanor and require the partner actually get HIV.
At a committee hearing, some expressed concerns that the proposed penalty is too lenient. Representative Ed Canfield, R-Sebawaing, said the offender would only get a misdemeanor. “But if they pass the infection on to someone, it’s a lifetime condition that’s not curable.”
Representative Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, is a bill sponsor. He said, “We have the opportunity to be the generation that ends HIV.” But harsh criminal penalties can, in some cases, prevent some people from even getting tested in the first place. Testing, medical experts say, is crucial.
“The more you test, the more you know, the more you can intervene and actually decrease not only risks to your own lifespan but also risks for transmission to others,” said Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive.
President of the Michigan state Medical Society, Dr. Betty Chu says the legislation, which includes updating the terminology of some of the state’s laws, could help reduce the stigma of HIV.
“Which will help the state and the healthcare community address the disease like any other infectious disease and ensure those living with HIV are treated as patients rather than criminals,” she said.
Other legislation would update the language of some of the laws. The laws are so old, in some cases they reference tests that are not performed anymore.