California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law SB-239 -- a measure that minimizes the state-imposed penalty for purposefully infecting a person with HIV. While it was formerly considered a felony, the act of infecting someone with the sometimes fatal illness is now a misdemeanor. HIV is now treated like other communicable diseases.

Treatment and prognosis of HIV/AIDS has improved significantly since the initial scare in the 1980s. Additionally, persons at risk of exposure to the virus can be prescribed a medicine known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, which reduces the risk of infection. In 1995, more than 50,000 people died of the disease. In 2014, the last year with statistics, there were only about 6,700 deaths attributed to HIV.

Republican state Sen. Joel Anderson said he doesn't think people who would intentionally infect others should get lighter sentences. Other Republicans fear that the bill will cause greater levels of infection. However, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) claimed that harsh penalties served to discourage patients from getting tested for HIV and stigmatize those infected. In 2016, California legislators approved a bill that allows HIV patients requiring blood transfusions to receive blood from HIV-positive donors, reversing a previous ban. 

Wiener asserted that the old law was "extreme and discriminatory." He told CNN, "The most effective way to reduce HIV infections is to destigmatize HIV." He added,  "To make people comfortable talking about their infection, get tested, get into treatment."

“I’m of the mind that if you purposefully inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regimen of medications to maintain any kind of normalcy, it should be a felony,” Anderson saud during debate on the measure. “It’s absolutely crazy to me that we should go light on this.” Anderson called for stiffer penalties to those who expose others to other infectious diseases. While the old law provided for an eight year prison sentence, the law measure calls for only six months. Sen. Jeff Stone (R) -- a pharmacist who voted against the bill -- said that 3 out of 4 Americans on prescription medication don’t comply with doctor’s orders on how to take it. “If you don’t take your AIDS medications and you allow for some virus to duplicate and show a presence, then you are able to transmit that disease to an unknowing partner,” Stone said on the Senate floor. 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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