HIV/AIDS and Civil Liberties

Document Date: February 28, 2002

“Would that 25 million people were not so frightened and not so invisible and had more courage to say out loud, and all at once: We are equal, whether you like it or not.”

Larry Kramer, “Whose Constitution is it Anyway?”

The HIV epidemic is a health crisis. But since it began in the U.S. in the early 1980’s, the collateral social consequences of the epidemic have also been catastrophic. Over and over again, people with HIV disease were — without medical justification — denied access to employment, housing, schools, health care and other basic social rights, and the search for a cure was joined by a struggle for basic civil rights. AIDS forces American society to confront the conflict between individual and community interests in the formulation of public policy.

In dealing with the AIDS crisis, the government must be guided by three principles: (1) that public policy must be based on medical facts and realities, not ignorance and prejudice; (2) that the AIDS crisis must not become a pretext for unjustified violations of individual rights; and (3) that the least restrictive measures possible must be used to achieve public health goals.

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