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Knowingly exposing others to HIV is a felony. Should it be?




Peter Yanez, who is insured under a policy from the Affordable Care Act, has blood drawn by Linda Williams, a medical assistant, as he gets a blood test at a Planned Parenthood health center on May 12, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
Peter Yanez, who is insured under a policy from the Affordable Care Act, has blood drawn by Linda Williams, a medical assistant, as he gets a blood test at a Planned Parenthood health center on May 12, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Under current California law, knowingly exposing someone to HIV, either through unprotected sex or a blood or semen donation, is a felony – but a new state Senate bill is looking to downgrade it to a misdemeanor, putting it on par with the punishment for transmitting other communicable diseases.

Introduced by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SB 239 cleared the state Senate Wednesday, and now goes to Assembly.

Proponents of the bill say it’s unfair that transmitting HIV/AIDS has a harsher penalty than exposing people to other communicable diseases. This perpetuates the stigma around HIV, discounts recent medical advances and discourages people from getting tested.

The bill is opposed by many Republican lawmakers, who say knowingly exposing someone to the disease endangers lives and needs to be prosecuted accordingly.

We debate the bill. Should knowingly transmitting HIV remain a felony? Or is that a discriminatory vestige of a time past?

Guests:

Edward Machtinger, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco; he directs the women’s HIV program and has done 20 years of research and care of individuals living with HIV  

Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense organization specializing in religious issues headquartered in Sacramento