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Gordon Nary

March, 1996

Washington, DC, is an epicenter of situational ethics. There is so much posturing, duplicity, rationalization, and spin-doctoring that many of our nation's leaders can no longer tell right from wrong. President Clinton has recently signed a $265-billion defense bill that includes a provision that HIV-infected military personnel be discharged because of their health status. The provision was tacked on to the bill by US Representative Robert Dornan of California, a Republican presidential candidate who has claimed that his provision would protect other service personnel from being infected with HIV. Mr. Dornan must obviously have some crucial information about IV drug use and unprotected sex between US military personnel--activities that have escaped the attention of the Pentagon, which has publicly opposed the Dornan amendment.

Although Clinton sanctimoniously complained that the Dornan amendment was unconstitutional and would later be declared so by the US Supreme Court, he did sign the bill that he could have vetoed. In so doing, he has placed US military personnel in harm's way for a short-term political gain. The President's plea for public understanding of his decision to sign the defense bill has the same moral legitimacy as the plea by the teenager on trial for murdering his parents asking the court for mercy because he is an orphan. Clinton has sacrificed the lives of an estimated 1049 HIV-infected service personnel and their families so that he could appear macho for signing a strong defense bill. Signing a defense bill that places members of the military in harm's way doesn't make the President macho--it makes him unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief of US military forces.

The White House hopes that the anticipated challenge to the Dornan provision before the Supreme Court will help diminish the President's culpability. Chief White House attorney Jack Quinn cited the 1943 stand by one of Clinton's heroes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, against a congressional punitive action aimed at government workers. But it was also FDR who approved the internment of Asian-Americans during World War II and the Yalta agreement that placed millions of East Europeans under the control of the Soviet Union. Clinton should be more careful in choosing his human-rights role models.

Another ethical charge has recently been leveled at the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. The animal-rights lobby has been attacking Dr. Francis Novembre for his team's efforts to find clues about what prevents the development of AIDS in chimpanzees that have been injected with HIV. A chimpanzee that was injected with an HIV strain eleven years ago finally began to demonstrate symptoms parallel to AIDS in humans. These included a decline in CD4+ cells, chronic diarrhea, and opportunistic infections.

The arguments from some of the animal rights activists, including Jane Goodall, have been organized in the Declaration of Great Apes, which demands that nonhuman apes--chimps, gorillas, and orangutans--receive treatment governed by the same moral principles that govern the treatment of human beings. Unfortunately, the demand for "the same moral principles that govern the treatment of human beings" has undermined the Great Apes Declaration. Chimps, gorillas, and orangutans are already being treated according to the same moral principles and rights that govern human beings--at least those HIV-infected human beings in the US military.

©1996, Medical Publications Corporation

This article was provided by International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. It is a part of the publication Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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