Foes of Proposition 102, the state initiative that would mandate the reporting of all suspected AIDS cases in California, charged during a heated debate Wednesday that backers falsely used the name of a Colorado state health official to demonstrate medical support for their campaign.
During the one-hour debate on the USC campus, Dr. Mervyn F. Silverman, president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research and an opponent of the ballot measure, said that Dr. Thomas M. Vernon, the director of Colorado’s Public Health Department, has disavowed the use of his name by backers of the initiative.
“I have a letter from Tom Vernon saying that it is outrageous that his name was ever put on this,” Silverman said, angrily adding that the allegation was the latest of a “series of misrepresentations” by supporters of Proposition 102.
State Sen. William Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), one of the chief sponsors of the AIDS proposal, said that he was unaware of any use of Vernon’s name by the pro-102 campaign. “I’ve heard his name, but I don’t know in what context it could have been used,” Dannemeyer said. “I don’t know what (Silverman is) talking about.”
But Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for Californians Against Proposition 102, said that in several interviews and public statements in recent weeks, Dannemeyer has repeatedly claimed that Colorado public health officials said they were happy with a similar AIDS law already in use in their state and approved of the California initiative.
“He has completely misrepresented the Colorado experience,” Merrilees said. “He has been making a bogus argument and got caught doing it.”
Earlier this week, opponents filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Proposition 102 supporters violated the law by not fully disclosing the source of nearly $640,000 in campaign funds.
After the debate, Silverman produced a two-page letter from Vernon. In the note, Vernon explained that he had provided information to the pro-102 campaign about Colorado’s AIDS testing program--which is mandatory, but remains basically anonymous because those who are tested for AIDS have been able to falsify their names without being prosecuted.
But the Colorado official, who could not be reached for comment, insisted in his letter that he had given no support to the AIDS initiative. “Forces behind Proposition 102 are seriously misrepresenting the premises under which I provided them information,” Vernon wrote. He added: “I am outraged to learn that I am being portrayed as a supporter of increased mandatory reporting by physicians based on suspicion. . . . Such proposals are contrary to my beliefs.”
The AIDS initiative would scuttle the current California public strategy of using confidential AIDS tests and mass education, replacing it with a system under which physicians would be forced to collect the names of everyone who has tested positive for the AIDS virus and compile their sexual contacts as far back as 1979.
Opponents of 102 claim that it will require doctors to report any patient they suspect may be infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which usually leads to fully developed AIDS. Silverman claimed that the requirement might lead physicians to report the names of homosexuals, drug abusers and others to health authorities simply because they are members of known high-risk groups.
During the debate, Dr. John Bridgeman, an Orange County physician and a Proposition 102 supporter, said that Colorado officials and other noted health experts endorse the concept of “contact tracing"--the tracking down of the known sexual partners of AIDS patients. “That (contact tracing) is the essential part of this bill,” Bridgeman said.
The Orange County doctor said that the reason some experts have shied away from coming out in public support of 102 is because of the political clout of California’s gay community and the California Medical Assn. Both groups supported passage of the current California AIDS law.
Bridgeman also insisted that while the leadership of the state medical association opposes 102, “there is a growing number of members who are in favor.” Silverman countered that most AIDS experts--ranging from a majority of California AIDS specialists to U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop--oppose the initiative.