The Board of the IHEU has approved the following statement on AIDS policy:
- From an ethical point of view a policy should not only be judged by its intentions but also by its consequences, intended or otherwise.
- Generalising about groups at risk is unjustified and also contrary to the principle of non-discrimination laid down in national and international laws. Moreover, recent research has shown that it is not so much a matter of groups at risk as well as of behaviour at risk.
- Measures which are damaging for the confidential relationship between health workers and (potential) patients will not only by counterproductive as regards AIDS prevention, but will also have adverse effect on other aspects of public health: many people will start avoiding health care institutions.
- The moral principle of “informed consent” in connection with AIDS implies that people have to be well informed and must be free to decide, on the basis of that information, whether they want to be tested for antibodies or not. This moral principle imposes an obligation for sexual partners to be open and honest. Deviating from the principle of “informed consent” is only morally acceptable if innocent third parties may be at risk, or if vaccines or medicines would be available, which at present is not the case.
- Those who wish to be tested for antibodies must be told that:
- Such a test cannot prove whether one will have AIDS or not,
- A positive outcome may cause great emotional problems,
- One is not entirely free of risk even when one has passed antibody negative.
- Harsh measures (e.g. compulsory testing) often create a false feeling of security which is ineffective and may even accomplish the opposite of what is intended. That would not only be detrimental from the viewpoint of prevention but would also damage a government’s credibility.
- Comparison with other diseases which can be spread without behaviour at risk (e.g. tuberculosis) should for moral, legal and epidemiological reasons be avoided, because the virus is transferred in a quite different manner, and transferral can only take place when both parties behave at risk.
- A government must not be a censor of morals but has to remind its citizens of their liberties and of the responsibilities arising therefrom.
- We should prevent countries saddling other countries with the consequences of their own failing AIDS policy. Also from a moral standpoint we disapprove of such shifting of responsibility to another country. People and therefore governments as well should experience themselves as much as possible what the consequences are of their actions, so people will be stimulated to realise that they are not free to arrange their own lives but that this freedom also carries responsibilities.
- A government has the responsibility of preventing commercial abuse of the AIDS problem (e.g. trade in non-AIDS certificates).
- Those people who have AIDS today were infected at a time when they could reasonably not be expected to know how such an infection took place. Because of the long incubation period the effects of information campaigns aimed at a change in behaviour will only be noticeable after quite a while. Therefore the importance of such campaigns cannot be too strongly emphasised, particularly as long as no vaccines and medicine are available.
Board of Directors 1987
Suggested academic reference
'AIDS policy', Humanists International, Board of Directors, 1987