Are Hepatitis C “intentional exposure” Criminalization Laws on the Horizon?

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

One of my favorite things about growing up in the 1980s/90s was hearing all about how “…this guy spit on someone, and it turned out…he had HIV.”

Inevitably, the “guy” they were talking about was supposedly arrested and charged with a felony for trying to infect someone with AIDS, and everyone would gasp in horror – how DARE someone try to spread AIDS by spitting on an innocent bystander?! If I happened to be in or around the group talking about this, I would always (not so calmly) explain to them that it is a scientific improbability that one could transmit the HIV virus by way of spit, because the concentration of the virus in spit is so low that there is almost a 0% chance that it can be transmitted outside of incredibly extreme circumstances and a concerted effort. Mind you, this was back in the late-80s/early-90s, when the AIDS panic was still in full swing. Even THEN, I wasn’t stupid enough to believe this kind of nonsense.

States that criminalize biting, spitting, or throwing of bodily fluids by people who have HIV

Little did I know, at the time, that these kinds of arrests were an actual thing. In 2017, there were 16 states that criminalize spitting, biting, and blood exposure for HIV-infected citizens (The Center for HIV Law & Policy, 2017).

I mean…

It’s 2018. These laws aren’t even based on good science!

So, because everything is awful, and America is totally known for basing their laws on good data and research, of course these fatuous laws would be extended to Hepatitis C (HCV) – one of the least effectively externally transmitted viruses.

Photo of a 27-year old man with Hepatitis C charged with spitting at Cleveland police officers.In Cleveland, OH, for example, a 27-year-old man who was drunk has been charged with First Degree Felonious Assault…for spitting on a police officer. He’s being held on $75,000 bond in the Cuyahoga County Jail, because he was drunk and spat in a police officer’s face while being put into an ambulance (Jankowski, 2018). Matthew Wenzler, the accused, has been called a “carrier” of HCV, and Cleveland Police reports state that they were “told” he is a “heroin addict.”

This isn’t even the first time Ohio has prosecuted someone for Spitting While HCV – in both State v. Price (2005) and State v. Bailey (1992), Ohio courts have upheld convictions for assault for spitting in an officer’s mouth. The neighboring state, Indiana, classifies Spitting While HCV as Class 5 or 6 felony battery…but only:

…if the accused in a rude, angry, or insolent manner places bodily fluid/waste on another person AND knew or recklessly failed to know that his or her bodily waste or fluid was infected with hepatitis [for Class 6].

…if the accused in a rude, angry, or insolent manner places bodily fluid/waste on another person AND knew or recklessly failed to know that his or her bodily waste or fluid was infected with hepatitis AND places the bodily fluid/waste on a public safety official [for Class 5] (Paukstis, 2017).

In South Dakota, a (Republican) state lawmaker has introduced legislation to make the transmission of HCV a Class 3 Felony punishable by up to 15 years in a state penitentiary and a $30,000 fine (Mercer, 2018). What makes this trouble is that this legislation is for “intentional exposure” which applies to “…transferring, donating or providing blood, tissue, organs or other infectious body parts or fluids” (Mercer). For anyone who’s paid attention over the past two years, the transplantation of HCV-infected organs has been repeatedly done, because there is now a functional cure for the disease. These organs are desperately needed at a time when the disease can be cured, and this legislation would making numerous people criminally liable for completing these procedures – the donor and anyone who approved or performed the transplant.

It should go without saying that criminalization of Viral Hepatitis (of any variety) and HIV is based not on good data or science, but upon efforts to shame and stigmatize those with the disease. It’s time for this nonsense to stop.

References

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Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.

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