The AMA calls for modernization of HIV criminal laws

Published: June 10, 2014

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) House of Delegates, the principal policy-making body of the AMA, has adopted a resolution condemning discrimination based on HIV status, including mandatory discharge from the military based solely on HIV, and supporting the modernization of HIV related criminal laws.  The resolution encourages vigorous enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws and the incorporation of HIV in future federal anti-discrimination legislation. It also supports making federal and state laws consistent with current medical knowledge, avoiding criminal punishment based on health and disability status, and educating the public on the stigma and negative health consequences of HIV criminalization.

The resolution is the result of a process begun when a medical student attended an HIV criminalization workshop hosted by the Positive Justice Project (PJP), a national campaign leading the fight against HIV criminalization, and became interested in engaging in policy advocacy.  The medical student enlisted the support of two fellow students, and together they suggested passing an amendment to the existing AMA resolution on HIV discrimination.

Several other national players have already issued statements on HIV criminalization, including the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. These statements draw from the first national Consensus Statementon HIV criminalization released by PJP in July 2012.

Many have also called for an end to HIV criminalization noting that there is no evidence that criminal penalties aid in HIV prevention, and that medical and healthcare providers should not participate in the criminal prosecutions of their patients. In fact, involving medical and healthcare providers in the criminal prosecutions of their patients raises serious trust and confidentiality concerns that can have a powerful disincentive and chilling effect on HIV medical care and treatment.

In Spring 2013, CHLP Staff Attorney and PJP Coordinator, Rashida Richardson, worked closely with the medical students on various HIV criminalization issues. The students believed that the largest association of physicians and medical students in the United States should take a stand on this important issue at the intersection of medicine, public health, criminal justice, and human rights. More students become involved and they proposed a resolution that was passed by the student section of the AMA in November 2013.

Earlier this year, Richardson enrolled the HIVMA and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) to help provide guidance and support to the medical students as they engage in further advocacy. Finally, with minor amendments, the AMA’s Reference Committee of the Council on Constitution and Bylaws recommended the resolution for adoption, and it was passed on June 9, 2014 by the delegates attending the annual meeting in Chicago.

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