Both discrimination and the fear of discrimination will be reduced by the ruling of the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission that AIDS patients are protected by state laws that guard the physically handicapped against job discrimination.
The unanimous decision of the seven-member commission, all of whose members were appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian, means that people who get AIDS can't be laid off as long as they can work. The ruling is based on the medical evidence showing that you can't get AIDS by the kind of contacts you encounter in the workplace. You get AIDS by intimate contact like sexual intercourse or shared intravenous needles.
The decision--which supports ordinances forbidding job discrimination passed in Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Francisco and Oakland--conforms to the position of the office of civil rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It contradicts the position of the U.S. Department of Justice, which, in a curious memo widely attacked by public health officials, said last year that federal contractors who fired AIDS patients based on fear of contagion could not be charged with discrimination under federal laws protecting the handicapped.
The California ruling is a manifestation of the growing medical knowledge about AIDS--so mysterious when it first appeared, so menacing as it spreads. You can live in the same house with an AIDS patient and not get AIDS, as long as you avoid the kinds of intimate contact that could give you AIDS. You can certainly, all the medical evidence indicates, work closely with someone who has AIDS and not get it.
California, which is unfortunately a leader in the number of AIDS cases, is also becoming a leader in the informed and humane treatment of those stricken with AIDS.