Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 377–381 | Cite as

AIDS Panic in the Twenty-First Century: The Tenuous Legal Status of HIV-Positive Persons in America

  • Richard G. CockerillEmail author
  • Lance Wahlert
Critical Perspectives


Thirty-four states criminalize HIV in some way, whether by mandating disclosure of one’s HIV status to all sexual partners or by deeming the saliva of HIV-positive persons a “deadly weapon.” In this paper, we argue that HIV-specific criminal laws are rooted in historical prejudice against HIV-positive persons as a class. While purporting to promote public health goals, these laws instead legally sanction discrimination against a class of persons.


AIDS HIV Criminal law Criminalization Bioethics 


  1. Altman, L.K. 1981. Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals. The New York Times, July 3. Accessed March 20, 2014.
  2. Burris, S., and E. Cameron. 2008. The case against criminalization of HIV transmission. The Journal of the American Medical Association 300(5): 578–581.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012. HIV transmission risk. Accessed April 4, 2014.
  4. Kovach, G.C. 2008. Prison for man with H.I.V. who spit on police officer. The New York Times, May 16. Accessed March 20, 2014.
  5. McArthur, J.B. 2009. As the tide turns: The changing HIV/AIDS epidemic and the criminalization of HIV exposure. Cornell Law Review 94(3): 707–742.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic. 1988. Report of the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic. Accessed March 20, 2014.
  7. The Center for HIV Law and Policy: The Positive Justice Project. 2012. Chart: State-by-state criminal laws used to prosecute people with HIV, Center for HIV Law and Policy (2012). Accessed April 4, 2014.
  8. Treichler, P.A. 1987. AIDS, homophobia, and biomedical discourse: An epidemic of signification. Cultural Studies 1(3): 263–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Woods, W.J.D., L.M. Binson, P.C. Pollack, and T.B. Neilands. 2008. Closing bathhouses unlikely to decrease number of sex acts and may reduce condom use. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 47(2): 264–266.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mayo Medical SchoolMayo Clinic College of MedicineRochesterUSA
  2. 2.Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Medical Ethics and Health PolicyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations