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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Crime vs. privacy


AIDS: Health risk

Ohio law rightly treats an HIV-positive person who solicits sex as a criminal, just as it does anyone else who commits assault with a deadly weapon.

So in the case of Charles Woodgeard the public has a right to know his health status. When he was arrested, he lost a right to medical privacy that ought to be otherwise maintained.

Woodgeard was arrested on Aug. 20 on a charge that he solicited an undercover police officer for sex. He is HIV positive. Woodgeard is now serving a one-year prison term for his crime, but AIDS activists and Hamilton County Public Defender Lou Strigari have told the Enquirer that identifying people who carry the deadly disease is a violation of their medical privacy if they have not yet been convicted.

We believe Strigari has it wrong. Under ordinary circumstances, a person's medical condition should be confidential, but not in a case where that condition is used as a weapon. When a person is accused of committing a crime by engaging in behavior that poses a public risk, the public has a right to know about that risk. As Cincinnati Police Capt. Paul Humphries told the Enquirer, when the public safety is at risk, the right to privacy ends.

In Woodgeard's case, his HIV status became public knowledge after it was posted online as part of his arrest record. He told officers he was HIV positive.

Seven years ago, Ohio lawmakers created a law aimed at prostitutes who solicit sex knowing that they are HIV positive. The offense is a felony, as opposed to simple solicitation, which is a misdemeanor. A similar law is aimed at HIV-positive people who solicit prostitutes for sex.

Medical records for law-abiding citizens must remain private, but when those who carry deadly diseases show disregard for the public through sexual solicitation, the public - including law enforcement and emergency workers - have a right to be aware of the potential danger.




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