“Criminal” should have such a clear denotation, but recent court cases dealing with HIV exposure have added a new dimension to the title. When a military official is sentenced to eight years of prison for multiple counts of aggravated assault, the line between hero and criminal is blurred and the nation is forced to revisit its stance on HIV transmission. But this visit isn’t complete without a detour to sex education.
Let me set a context for this discussion. Air Force sergeant David Gutierrez is HIV positive and fully aware of his condition. He was given a medical order to notify all sexual partners of his status and wear a condom during sexual activity. Not only did Gutierrez fail to do this, but he and his wife actually pursued opportunities to have unprotected sex. They participated in what is called a “swinger lifestyle,” where they voluntarily engage in sexual activity with other people’s partners. To clarify… the sex is voluntary; the HIV exposure, not so much. Gutierrez never told his partners that he was infected with the virus and actually went as far as saying he was clean.
In an effort to defend human integrity, some may argue that this man was blinded by resentment, embittered by his inevitable medical fate. Possibly, but this is not a question of morality. This is a question of stupidity, and that’s an accusation for Gutierrez and his victims alike.
I don’t mean to sound callous; I feel bad that these individuals were deceived, but my sympathy ends where personal accountability begins. Are we not members of an educated society, fully aware of the risks of unprotected sex? There are currently over 1.1 million people with HIV in the United States, with 56,300 new infections every year. And, annually, there are another 19 million new STD infections. Doesn’t this seem like a prevalent concern?
Consider this analogy. You’re jumping out of a plane, so the pilot hands you a parachute and tells you it will open. If it doesn’t open, that’s the pilots fault. But what if you jumped out of that plane without a parachute because the pilot told you you’d be fine. Is that still the pilot’s fault? In this litigation-happy society, probably; but, ultimately, common sense should have been a factor here. We know the risk of free falling into the atmosphere just as we know the risk of unprotected sex.
I could make an argument for mandatory contraception here, and would be justified in doing so. Even those who tout personal freedom over government control can’t argue that the government is bearing the brunt of this financial burden. STDs cost the U.S. healthcare system an annual $16.4 billion. HIV medication costs about $1750 per month and patients can spend upwards of $30,000 per year for medical care. To say that this is not the government’s concern is far from the truth.
But before we start enforcing condoms like seatbelts, let’s see this as an opportunity to renew the discussion on sex education. We have a tendency to view sex ed. as a staple in middle school curriculum, but HIV diagnosis (read: new cases) is highest in the 40-44 age range. Based on these statistics, the education shouldn’t stop with the teenyboppers. Based on these statistics, the nation needs to be reminded that teen pregnancy isn’t the only reason to wear protection.
Now Sgt. Gutierrez will face up to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge for his criminal actions. And hopefully the victims have learned a lesson in personal responsibility; because you can’t accuse someone of playing Russian Roulette with your health if you’re the one who takes the gun.