Insight Books, New York
One of the great joys of middle age is watching an old friend become a star in his field. I met Mark Senak on the 7th Avenue F-train subway platform in Brooklyn during the late '70s -- way back when I was still a hopelessly aspiring dancer and he an impoverished law student surviving on cheap peanut butter and premium vodka. We've remained close colleagues for nearly 20 years.
Senak was newly graduated from Brooklyn Law School and working for some multinational real estate developers when the plague came along. He began volunteering legal services for people with AIDS in 1983 through the pioneering Bar Association for Human Rights of Greater New York, went on to help build America's first AIDS homeless housing project at the AIDS Resource Center, and in 1985 became director of the precedent-setting legal department at Gay Men's Health Crisis. When he left that position three years later, the New York Times's "At the Bar" column credited Senak's office with having delivered legal services to ten percent of the PWAs in America.
A frequent lecturer and author on various aspects of AIDS, HIV, law and ethics -- including regular contributions to the Journal -- Senak is currently director of planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles, and sits on the public policy committee of the AIDS Action Council in Washington, DC. He's one of the most sought after and influential attorneys working on AIDS in the nation, advising an extraordinary gamut of politicians and policy makers from Al Gore to Ralph Reed. He's also cared for and buried as many friends as any of us, including his lover, Joseph Foulon, who died in 1987.
His new book, HIV, AIDS, and the Law, is a supremely practical guide to navigating all the legal tangles faced by people with HIV. His no-nonsense advice on private insurance, public entitlements, landlord-tenant and debtor-creditor problems, job discrimination, wills, and powers-of-attorney makes this essential reading for anyone with HIV and those caring for them. Nowhere before has such expert and user-friendly counsel been so neatly compiled.
Beyond these obvious assets, two unique contributions set this book apart from previous legal guides for sick people. Because of Senak's vast experience, HIV, AIDS and the Law tracks the convoluted and often misguided development of public health policy surrounding a new infectious disease. Where mean-spirited and self-serving political rhetoric has often attempted to pit public health concerns against the rights of individuals, Senak's surgically precise historic detail demonstrates how the best laws and practices manage to protect both the public interest and those at risk. Similarly, Senak offers incomparably cogent analysis of the panoply of ethical issues confronting medical practitioners and researchers at work on HIV. This book belongs on the desk of every conscientious medical professional and in the hands of everyone diagnosed with HIV.
Lest readers think my respect and affection for Senak color my criticism, before penning this I called him up and trashed his craft. Mark is also a talented fiction writer. I told him that only a lawyer who had spent too much time around social workers would repeatedly use "impact" as a verb. Nobody's perfect.
Rodger McFarlane is author of Everyday Angels: A No-Nonsense Guide to Caring for the Seriously Ill and the Dying (Simon & Schuster, 1997). He is former executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, Inc. (GMHC) and of Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS.