Restak’s opinion adds yet more smoke to an issue already obscured by moral demagogues, professional publicity seekers, and public furor. We know how AIDS is transmitted: the sexual contact, blood and body fluid contact that may spread the infection are from people carrying the virus but not ill with AIDS.
Once a person is identified as suffering from AIDS not only can they take appropriate precautions but they are in general not in a condition to participate in the activities known to spread AIDS.
The real public risk is not people with AIDS, but the 20 or 30 persons for every identified AIDS patient who carry the virus unbeknownst to themselves or their contacts.
The hysterical parent of the school-age child who fears the child with AIDS in the next seat or classroom seems unaware of the greater risk in their teen-ager who may be experimenting with sex or drugs.
The homophobe who avoids restaurants with gays, the office worker who shuns his or her colleague with AIDS is more likely to be infected by the next promiscuous encounter of theirs or that of their husband or wife.
AIDS and other infections caused by this virus is an epidemic with profound social, moral and health implications. Contrary to Restak’s minority opinion, the civil-rights issues are real. It is true that in extreme circumstances, quarantines may be imposed for public safety. It is likewise true (but ignored by Restak) that (1) quarantines have never been effective tools for limiting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and (2) targeting AIDS patients for quarantine misses those who will pass on the virus.
The issue of whether those million or more people who carry the virus but are “well” should be quarantined for their lifetimes raises more questions that we cannot discuss here. But even more crucial is rational discussion, research and dissemination of the facts about AIDS to stop the spread of the disease and alleviate the suffering of its victims.
JARED SPOTKOV MD