Mr. X's reasoning in "Interview with a Barebacker" is ethically barren. If preventing HIV transmission is everyone's responsibility, then it is no one's responsibility.
Those of us living with HIV disease have the primary ethical responsibility for ending the epidemic for multiple reasons.
Ethical societies are established upon a few basic principles: the obligation to do no harm, to tell the truth and to act justly. Ethical actions never compromise the principle of doing no harm. They subordinate the goals of pleasure and happiness to the virtues of philanthropy and self-sacrifice. Activities or decisions that maximize happiness and pleasure may not serve the best interests of the individual or society.
Disclosure of HIV status is a component of truth-telling. However difficult, it is incumbent upon people living with HIV to disclose their status to potential sexual partners. Why? Because although small, even protected sexual activity carries with it some risk of HIV transmission.
Acting justly means doing what is right, fair and lawful. Society is founded upon the notion that any activity that knowingly, willfully or deliberately contributes to the transmission of any disease, HIV included, is wrong.
People with HIV infection have a greater ethical responsibility than others without the disease. This responsibility differs in degree and not kind from the responsibility of individuals with other infectious diseases.
The foundation of the PWA self-empowerment dates to a 1983 statement known as the Denver Principles. Two of these values embody abiding ethical wisdom: people with AIDS are recommended to "substitute low-risk sexual behavior for those which could endanger themselves or their partners" and "people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status."
Lee Klosinski directs AIDS Project Los Angeles' Education Division. He can be reached by e-mail at lklosinski@APLA.org.