Criminalising HIV transmission: punishment without protection

Reprod Health Matters. 2009 Nov;17(34):119-26. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(09)34477-8.


Allegations of the reckless or intentional transmission of HIV raise challenging questions about how states can best address a disease which is transmitted primarily through behaviours that both states and community "police" in different ways. This paper argues that in the rare cases in which someone engages in specific behaviour with the intent to infect another person with HIV, existing laws such as laws against battery are sufficient to allow for the application of the criminal law. It discusses three key points: the potential consequences of new laws criminalising the transmission of HIV, why vague laws criminalising the knowing transmission of HIV fail to meet key requirements of criminal law and are an abuse of the state's policing power, and thirdly, the growing inclusion of such laws within sexual offences legislation. Laws criminalising the transmission of HIV risk bringing within the scope of legal sanction people living with HIV who are acting in ways that do not merit punishment and may as a result of prosecution face adverse human rights consequences.

MeSH terms

  • Criminal Law / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Sex Offenses / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Truth Disclosure