Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

No Time for an AIDS Backlash

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

No Time for an AIDS Backlash

Article excerpt

No Time for an AIDS Backlash

Writing in Time, Charles Krauthammer described the May 1990 protests by AIDS activists at the National Institutes of Health as a most misdirected demonstration: "The idea that American government or American society has been inattentive or unresponsive to AIDS is quite simply absurd." On the contrary, "AIDS has become the most privileged disease in America," this since Congress continues to allocate an enormous amount of money for research and for the treatment of people with HIV-related conditions. [1] Except cancer research, HIV-related disease now receives more research funding than any other illness in the United States, a priority Krauthammer maintains is all out of proportion to its significance since AIDS kills fewer people each year than many other diseases. The privilege of AIDS even extends to access to certain experimental drugs--access others do not share.

Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko has also challenged the view that there is government indifference regarding AIDS. "That might have been true at one time. But it no longer is. Vast sums are being spent on AIDS research. Far more per victim than on cancer, heart disease and other diseases that kill far more people." [2] In his view, some AIDS education posters have far more to do with the "promotion" of homosexuality than with the prevention of disease. Views of this kind reflect a movement that would assign AIDS a lesser standing in the social and medical priorities of the nation.

This view is not new in the epidemic; the sentiment that homosexuals with AIDS were being treated as a privileged class had surfaced as early as 1983. [3] What is new, though, is the increasing prominence of this view in public discourse and the extent to which the view is defended. In The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, Michael Fumento mounts a full-scale defense of the proposition that the AIDS epidemic has achieved national and medical priority all out of proportion to its dangers, especially since the disease will make few inroads against white, middle-class heterosexuals. [4] Fumento writes in self-conscious sound-bites: "Other than fairly spectacular rare occurrences, such as shark attacks and maulings by wild animals, it is difficult to name any broad category of death that will take fewer lives than heterosexually transmitted AIDS." He also says that the mass mailing of the Surgeon General's report on AIDS to every household "makes every bit as much sense as sending a booklet warning against the dangers of frostbite to every home in the nation, from Key West, Florida, to San Diego, California." Because there is no looming heterosexual epidemic and because the nation has neglected other medical priorities by siphoning off talent and money for AIDS research, Fumento concludes that "the ratio of AIDS research and development spending to federal patient costs is vastly out of proportion to other deadly diseases." Fumento also believes that the priority assigned to AIDS will endanger the lives of other people: "The blunt fact is that people will die of these other diseases because of the overemphasis on AIDS. We will never know their names, and those names will never be sewn into a giant quilt. We will never know their exact numbers. But they will die nonetheless."

Not only the priority of AIDS on the national agenda but also the tactics used to put it there and keep it there have found their critics. Krauthammer concedes that the gains made by AIDS activists are a tribute to their passion and commitment, but he believes that such gains have been won by ingenuous strategy. He charges that the "homosexual community," to advance its own interests, first claimed that AIDS was everyone's problem because everyone was at risk and its solution required universal social urgency. As it became clear that people would not fall at random to the disease, he says activists changed their tactics and began to prey on social guilt: how dare a society let its gay men, needle-users, their partners and their children get sick and die? …

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