30 November 2005

I am disappointed

I must admit, I have been purposefully been not-blogging because I was hoping to hear some feedback/opinions on my last post. Seeing as how the mainstream media all but manages to ignore the continuing AIDS epidemic globally and regionally, I was hoping to spark some form of thought in my generally shy and quiet audience.

Here's the thing. I wasn't talking about some guy who was waving a gun around wildly and it accidentally went off and two people died. This isn't that kind of murder. This is a guy who allegedly infected people -- women -- on purpose, maliciously. And from the audience:


Right, so here's a little education session on behalf of avert.org:

  • An estimated 40.3 million people WORLDWIDE are infected with HIV/AIDS.
  • To November 2005, there are 4.9 million new infections this year.
  • To date, 3.1 million people have died of AIDS in 2005.
  • More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
  • By December 2005 women accounted for 46% of all adults living with HIV worldwide.
  • More than 6,000 young people (15-24 years old) become infected with HIV every day.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, and South and South-East Asia lead the way in new infections this year with 25.8 million and 7.4 million respectively, to date.
  • Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans. Maybe I'll write that one out: 12,000,000
  • Of the 6.5 million people in developing and transitional countries who need life-saving AIDS drugs, only 1 million are receiving them.
  • In Canada, females accounted for 7% of AIDS cases reported with known gender in the period 1979-94; in 2004 that proportion was 21%.
  • The provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec account for 85% of the population of Canada and for 95% of the nation's AIDS diagnoses.
It's true, we're no longer living in that "everyone will know someone who dies of AIDS" world that was the prevalent message in the late-80s/early 90s. But it's still a huge problem and there is still NO cure. Antiretrovirals are great at allowing people to live with these diseases, but they are still subject to costly and sometimes nauseating drug cocktails.

So, to think that someone may have infected people on purpose, is a pretty upsetting event. I'm actually sad that people didn't seem to have anything to say about this, other than a couple of people privately commenting that they'd "write something later", which is why I waited to post again.

I think I'm going to put my trivial "recently in my life" post on hold for a bit and just let the AIDS thing sink in. Because if you haven't thought about it recently, it's about time you did.

And if you think you know so much about it, congratulations. Prove it.

17 November 2005

Don't it make you a weapon?

So, there's this guy in Canada. He has HIV. This (unfortunately) is not overly uncommon.

What is perhaps uncommon is that he has been charged with two counts of First-Degree Murder. In Canada, that's the most serious offense in criminal law. Wait, not that he was charged at all, but why he was charged.

He allegedly knowingly spread HIV/AIDS to 13 women. In all 13 cases, he was initially charged with aggravated sexual assault, the AIDS virus being considered the weapon.

Well, two of the women are now dead. One died in December 2003 and the other in May 2004.

It seems that under Canadian law, this charge can be commuted to a first-degree murder charge if the person dies as a result of the original offence.

The distinguishing factor would have to be that the women asked about his STD status and he claimed he was clean, knowing full well that he wasn't.

So, now there's a debate. On one side, you have certain (NOT all) AIDS activists who say that turning the transmission of AIDS into an indictable offense will stigmatize an already margianlied population. On the other, you have the people who say that it's about deterence and that people with AIDS have to take responsibility for themselves and for ensure that they don't infect other people.

I think this is a fair and excellent debate. Yesterday morning on The Current, they had some guests exchange various viewpoints on this issue. You can listen to this debate here.

I'm going to be purposely controversial, because I know this isn't an easy question to answer.

I am of the opinion that this man has to take responsibility for his alleged actions. I can't quite recall, but I seem to remember hearing something years ago about some guy who did something similar because he was angry at women because he got AIDS from a woman. Maybe it was an urban myth. Unfortunately, "guy spreading AIDS" conjures up a lot of hits on Google.

I don't mean to be glib. This would have huge implications. For one, prisons have higher infection rates than the general population. Will every one who transmits AIDS in a prison be subject to a murder charge? And what if they're in on murder? Do they become "dangerous offenders"? I know this isn't a simple, "Yeah, throw the book at the (alleged) disease-spreading bastard."

But I do think there needs to be accountability. Are the women accountable for their actions? Absolutely. If he was a stranger, they should have (and apparently did) asked his STD status or insisted on him wearing a condom. If he was known to them, they hopefull had the conversation with him. If they didn't, well they don't deserve AIDS, but he shouldn't be held accountable for their lack of prudence.

I think it's really going to come down to whether he actually hid the information from these women; and further than that it will be a question of semantics. Does answering "Yes" to "Have you ever been tested for HIV/AIDS/STDs?" require an immediate disclosure of the results of those tests? Is it unethical to stay silent if the follow-up "What was the result?" never comes?

Even as I write this I find it difficult to retain a sense of conviction in my argument because I know the pitfalls. I know that education has to come first; that new patients need to be taught what their responsibilities should be to themselves and others. I know that even "protected" or "safer" sex carries risks. I know that unless you follow a blood sample from vein to test result print-out, you're really just taking a huge leap of faith when your intended sexual partner says, "No, I don't have an incurable, fatal STD." And I know that this is a group of people who, first of all, suffer from enough stigmatization, and secondly have enough to deal without worrying about a first-degree murder charge.

But in this man's case, omission is the key. And I find it untenable that someone who KNOWS they have this incurable, fatal STD would risk infecting someone else ON PURPOSE (allegedly). AIDS is not influenza (avian or other). It is not something that can be floating in the air or on a doorknob for hours after an infected person deposits it there. There is intent in that there are limited means to transmit this disease, and if you know you have it, you (should) know how to prevent someone else from getting it from you.

The whole debate makes me sad. Know why? Watch And the Band Played On, an excellent Historical Drama about the discovery of the AIDS epidemic and the political infighting of the scientific community hampering the early fight with it (courtesy IMDB). If people had just listened to Matthew "what-have-I-done-lately?"* Modine, and not been so concerned with prestige, homophobia (Regan), and "It doesn't affect me" syndrome, then maybe we really wouldn't have to worry about legal ethics like this.

And don't even get me started on Africa.

*Actually, quite a bit, but where are the baby-faced promo tours?

Note: I use the "alleged" tag so much because, I do believe in "innocent until proven guilty", in theory.

06 November 2005

Or maybe not

The man from upstairs called this afternoon. He's no longer interested in doing the switch.

"I'm too old to be moving. It's too much at this point in my life."

I feel bad. I think it's because I was forcing that timetable on him. But I really don't think he can expect me to live here all winter and then up and go because it's convenient for him. It's not fair to ask me to live here and not get settled; to live in a half-furnished space because I don't want to go moving furniture in and have to move it later; to live in limbo where I don't feel I can make my space... me. I didn't buy this condo to be a transitional home, I bought it to live in. If I'm not staying I should be able to go; if I am, I should be able to settle it as my own.

And then learn to share it.

I guess I feel bad because I know this man has limited options. Staying upstairs probably means that he'll have to give up his independence sooner. I could see how frail he was was he was looking around yesterday. He had to stop and lean against a wall or sit in a chair to take a rest. If he lived here, it would already be modified for him and he could probably live alone longer. I don't want to feel that I'm making his life more difficult by not giving him more time. After all, I'm young and have longer to sort things out. I'm afraid I'm somehow being selfish.

Truth be told, I don't know what he would have said if I hadn't mentioned a timeline. His decision could have nothing to do with the perceived pressure I exerted. Or his son could have talked him out of it after all.

I'm looking around my bedroom, and it's pretty bare. Dad hung my degrees on the wall, I have my Hello Kitty calendar next to my bed, and a framed print of a Théâtre de l'Opéra poster that Lew gave me for my birthday in high school or early university. My full-length mirror is leaning against the wall. My dresser is arbitrarily placed where Dad and Andrew put it down when I moved in. I have plastic storage shelves on one side of the bed, partially because there's nowhere else to put them. It's not an elegant room by any means, but I get to choose what it will look like. At some point, I will get to choose paint for it, and maybe I will ask for a wardrobe for Christmas, so I have lots of extra space to hang my clothes.

I'm sort of excited about this now.

And maybe in a year or two, the man upstairs will need to think seriously about changing his situation again. And if he's still reluctant to leave the building and the neighbourhood he loves, maybe we'll talk about it again.

I feel bad that we couldn't make it work, but I think I'm happy to just have a decision.

05 November 2005

Here I go again?

I'm moving!

Well, maybe.

There is an old gentleman upstairs, who is suffering from a number of ailments. Firstly, he suffered a stroke a few years back. Secondly, he suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter. Now, it seems, his spine is in collapse.

My first encounter with this man was mere days after I moved into my condo. He slipped a vaguely-worded note under my door asking me to call him. I did and he started this spiel about his new disability and understanding that the unit I owned was modified for wheelchair access, including a wheelchair ramp with ground-floor access to the outside.

A few weeks ago, he accosted my mother who was here helping me put up shelves, and he started in on her, too. After discussing it with my parents, I decided to go have a look.

Mom and I went up a few days later, and it's a nice place; almost identical to mine, but on the other side of the building. I started to get really excited about the idea, but then calmed down as I thought about the pro and cons of moving/staying.

This afternoon, the man and his grown son came down to look at my place. It was all going swimmingly until I mentioned the timeline.

In all my deliberations over whether I wanted to do this, I decided that I wasn't going to let this process go on forever. I have things I need to do in this place if I'm staying, like remodel the kitchen so I don't break my back while doing dishes. I'd like to have this done before Christmas because after that, it's January. And January is a terrible month to remodel. I also can't live with it the way it is. The counters are too low and the sink is awkward for me. Plus, I don't feel like I have a good space for preparing food.

The man doesn't seem comfortable with this timeline. I think he thought we could agree to it, but wait until spring to do the actual moving. I mean, really, in a way, it's about putting pressure on him so I'm not living in limbo until he makes up his mind.

But I do have sympathy. I know this can't be an easy decision for him to make. He's been living in the same unit for 22 years and is only moving because he's 83 and can't really manage stairs anymore. Our building doesn't have an elevator, and as I mentioned, I have a wheelchair ramp that opens to the parking lot.

His son seemed to think it was a good idea, but probably only because, if it's what his dad wants, it's better than his current situation. I don't think anyone in the family is trying to force him into a nursing home, but he needs a better situation.

I wonder, if the son had been more resistant to the idea, if the man would have been fighting harder. Reverse psychology and all.

For my part, I'm fine either way. I hate packing and moving, but his place affords a lot of nice features -- a screen door, a large balcony, normal kitchen. Staying means getting a dehumidifier, but I get to make the kitchen look how I want, and all my stuff is already here. I and make this place into what ever I want. :)

There are pros and cons to both. But really, unless I absolutely decide I don't want to do it, I just have to wait on him.