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Will a Michigan Court Force an HIV-Positive Man to Take His Medication?

By Ikè Nwankpa

January 12, 2012

A few weeks ago, the media was buzzing with sensationalized reports about a Comstock Park, Mich., man who walked into a police station and confessed to attempting to infect hundreds of people with HIV either through unprotected sex or sharing needles. News reports claimed he had a history of psychological problems, and was charged with multiple counts of "sex with an uninformed person" (a violation of Michigan’s HIV disclosure law) and held on a $100,000 bond.

But now, another controversy has reared its head.

According to The American Independent, Sangeeta Ghosh, the assistant corporate counsel for Kent County, Mich., stated that if the detainee was to make his bail, the county would try to force him to take antiretroviral medications as a means to stop him from transmitting the virus to someone else. Given the nature of this alleged crime, the county believes that this move is the right thing for public safety.

But this move has many HIV/AIDS activists up in arms.

Sean Strub, the U.S. co-chair of the Global Network of People Living with HIV, North America (GNP+), told the Independent in an email:

“Forcing anyone to take treatment is a slippery slope.This person’s most important health issue seems to be his mental health, not his viral status. Forcing anti-retroviral treatment on anyone is a slippery slope. Once the camel’s nose gets inside that tent, even in such a rare and bizarre circumstance as this peculiar case, it is not such a huge step to mandatory testing and treatment for an ever-expanding number of people with HIV.”

This sentiment was echoed by Catherine Hanssens, the executive director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy. She told the Independent:

“So the threat of mandatory treatment is not a reflection of any danger [the suspect] poses, but of Ms. Ghosh’s dangerous misapprehension of both HIV transmission and the law governing the very limited circumstances under which treatment of an individual can be mandated.”

The man is currently in Ypsilanti, Mich., undergoing a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is mentally sound for trial.

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