Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Human Rights of Criminals

Two HIV-positive men in Victoria and South Australia were permitted to run wild by health officials, passing on their infection to as many sexual partners as they could, because their right to privacy was deemed paramount.

Senior health authorities in Victoria and SA made a value judgment between the lethal activities of their clients and the risk they posed to the community and appear to have preferred to protect the men's privacy even though their behaviour risked the health of their sexual conquests, possibly numbering more than 100.

Police were not informed despite psychiatrist, Dr. Fintan Harte's, warning three years ago that Michael Neal (pictured above), the Melbourne man accused of deliberately spreading HIV, was the

"Most evil man I have seen in 20 years, who enjoys infecting men with HIV. The only way to guarantee the public's health is to lock this man up for life".

The case was only referred to police when Victoria's Chief Health Officer, Dr. Robert Hall, became aware that Neal was also a fan of child pornography. So is he saying that infecting gay men with a deadly disease is more acceptable than looking at obscene pictures?

There are three issues to consider.

i) A patient's right to privacy. Under Australian law, an individual must be informed before private details are disclosed. Despite the horrors of this case, we must not lose track of the importance of a right to privacy.

ii) If health officials believe the actions of an individual will put others at risk, what can they actually do? Ask them to reveal their HIV +ve status to potential partners? But how is this enforced? Lock them up? But under what charge? In the old days, carriers of deadly infectious diseases were quarantined from the rest of the population. But this is not a realistic solution today.

iii) When do the rights of law-abiding citizens trump those of the criminal individual? Police in the UK recently refused to release a picture of a convicted murderer who had escaped from prison because it might "violate his human rights".

The gay community in Australia seems remarkably sanguine about the case, with one commenter on gay site, Queerty, stating

"For what it's worth, I played with Michael Neal, and he told me he was positive when asked. As for attempted murder? Rubbish. HIV isn't fatal any more."

h/t; Australian Politics

Neal was committed on March 29 to stand trial on 106 charges including intentionally spreading HIV, attempting to intentionally spread a very serious disease, rape and child pornography. He reserved his plea. During his committal hearing, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told the health department had been contacted nine times in four years by doctors and concerned gay men who alleged the 48-year-old was intent on "breeding" the deadly disease.

But even though Neal had told the DHS during his first meeting with its officers that he was having unprotected sex with many men and only sometimes disclosed his HIV status, police were not notified of the case until February last year. Neal, who wore a genital attachment knowing it would cause bleeding during intercourse, increasing the chances of HIV transmission, told nurses his sex life was his own and he had no intention of following their orders to stop having unprotected sex. According to a witness at Neal's committal hearing, Neal hosted a "conversion party" at which a 15-year-old boy was injected with methamphetamine and "bred" (infected with HIV) by about 15 HIV-positive men who had sex with him.

Instead of notifying police of his activities, the health officers went through a four-stage process with Neal, first offering him counselling, education and support, then referring the allegations against him to an internal HIV advisory panel, then issuing a letter of warning and finally issuing orders that restricted Neal's sexual behaviour and required him to make contact with a department officer each day. When Neal was told he must either disclose his HIV status to his partners or wear a condom, Neal demanded the department pay for Viagra "due to his erectile dysfunction when using condoms", the court was told.

The matter was referred to Melbourne's sexual crimes squad in February last year although a full year earlier a former partner had told authorities Neal was boasting of infecting people with HIV and claimed to have infected "approximately 75 people and remained in a relationship with them until they tested positive". Even then, health officials refused to hand over files to the police and they had to subpoena medical notes and compel the doctors to give evidence against Neal in court.

In the South Australian case, health officials were warned two years go that Stuart McDonald was knowingly spreading HIV. McDonald may have deliberately infected as many as a dozen men with the disease since moving to Adelaide about eight years ago but it was not until last month that he was ordered to take a psychiatric examination and stop having unprotected sex and advertising for sex on the internet.

The federal Government's chief adviser on HIV has labelled Victoria's handling of a man accused of deliberately spreading the deadly virus throughout the gay community - possibly across three states - as the "most spectacular failure in 20 years" of national AIDS policy