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Routine Opt-Out HIV Testing in 2011: The Road to Civility Is Paved With Forgiveness

December 6, 2010

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As an action-packed year for the HIV/AIDS community draws to a close, takes stock of 2010 in a new series of articles, "HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)." Read the entire series here.

I had the pleasure of spending a recent weekend in Los Angeles, and for someone who has lived in New England for more than 27 years I'm struck each time I visit. LA seems very much like stepping into our cultural future. LA still has a refreshing and disarming new frontier feel, like anything is still possible there. If that sounds hokey, so be it.

Ed Perlmutter

Ed Perlmutter

All the rage these days in the San Fernando Valley is storefront Reflexology Massage Centers, 15 or so La-Z-Boy-type chairs arranged group-style in a dimly lit, comfy room with waterfalls and sunsets projecting on a large flatscreen TV and courteous and attentive Chinese men and women massage therapists giving 1/2 hour ($15) and hour ($25) reflexology massages (fully clothed) that are rejuvenating and relaxing and quite a deal to boot. I'd never had anyone punch me on the soles of my feet, but I'm hooked. Word to the wise: Punching yourself in the soles of your feet just isn't the same. And at 11 o'clock in the morning on a Thursday in November, the joint was jumping.

As weekends are wont to do, the magical one in LA ended and I returned to Boston, to my turf, and I didn't see anything even remotely close to the Reflexology Salons of The Valley. And I can't see them hitting this town anytime soon, but possibly in a few years. Philadelphia? Maybe next year, the year after? Kansas City? Three to five years? We trend, culturally speaking and otherwise, toward California.


For a newborn Accidental Activist like yours truly, the California HIV routine testing model that has been in effect there since 2008 is like taking a look into the HIV testing future. It's a sign of intelligent life too, especially for someone who spent so long in the care of a medical system that had simply shut down on offering HIV tests in anything remotely akin to a routine and standardized manner. We'll follow California's lead, trust me, and routine HIV testing is the model that will become the standard in all 50 states someday very soon.

I've been whining about anything and everything since returning from L.A. "I want a storefront reflexology treatment." "I want fresh rosemary that grows wild on the sidewalk." "I want warmth beneath my feet." And to get me through the day I've been serenading myself with Joni Mitchell's haunting 1970 lyric -- "... it's too old and cold and settled in its ways here, oh, but California, California I'm coming home ..."

2010: Action in the Movement Toward Routine HIV Testing

The most bittersweet moment of this year soon to pass was a small moment but one that has proven to be profound, insightful and ultimately, for me, wickedly telling. I was sitting in an air-conditioned Senate office on a blazing hot July afternoon with the legislative counsel to a Massachusetts state senator from Boston's North Shore. I explained to her the peculiar road that had led me to her office that day and why I had become such a vocal proponent of the Routine Opt-Out HIV Testing bill before the legislature.

I could not tell at that time if I was making any inroads with the senators and their staff with whom I had been meeting. I explained to the aide what an awkward position I found myself in, representing a very large yet completely silent coalition, and certainly the most special of interests in this sorry tale -- the thousands of Massachusetts residents who are HIV positive but do not know it because they have not been offered an HIV test. That's a hard sell, especially when organizations such as AIDS Action, GLAAD and the ACLU, who opposed the bill, had sophisticated Web sites and e-mail lists and Action Alerts asking their constituency groups to push a button and send an email to their state senator so they could restate points of argument about the HIV testing bill that were flawed at best and downright untrue at worst. "You won't be hearing from the constituency I represent," was my pathetic but sincere argument. "But if they knew their HIV status, I'm sure they would contact you in support of Senate Bill 2416." Sigh.

This kind and gentle woman told me that after 15 years working at our State House (primarily for this senator) she is leaving in early 2011 because, as she succinctly put it, "this place and the people in and around it have lost all sense of civility." What exactly do you mean? I asked.

You see it every day and read it in every form, she explained. Take, for example, the comments sections of online newspapers, magazines and blogs. Readers take hateful positions, make unsubstantiated claims, and then hide in anonymity behind online monikers that allow the repartee to seem relatively harmless. But this kind of debate has created a great deal of harm, she told me, and the lines have become inextricably blurred between what used to be known as truthful discourse (civility) and the new world order (propagandistic diatribes with baseless claims).

The week before my visit, she'd seen representatives from the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, who had been lobbying their odd positions on the HIV testing bill, and she was left wondering what exactly their arguments had to do with instituting routine HIV testing. But deception and smear campaigns have become de rigueur, certainly in the current political climate we find ourselves in at the tail end of the first decade of this wobbly new century.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More Viewpoints on U.S. HIV Testing Policy

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