Recently in Singapore, a HIV-positive man who had frequent sex with other men was sentenced to jail. Although he had suspected that he could have been exposed to HIV, he decided not to get tested out of the fear that it might affect his permanent residency status in Singapore. At least six other men who had sex with him were later diagnosed as being HIV-positive.

In 2010, he had sex with a man who subsequently tested positive for HIV. Although MOH’s National Public Health Unit (NHPU) informed him that he was a sexual contact of a HIV-positive person, he refused to go for any testing. Instead, he lied to MOH that he gets tested regularly for the virus. He was subsequently informed that he was a sexual contact of someone who had tested positive for the virus at least three more times and he still refused to undertake any testing.

Despite not being tested for HIV, he continued to have casual sex with other men. The prosecution sought a conviction on the basis that he was wilfully blind to the possibility of having HIV infection and deceived MOH’s NHPU. He was also tried and convicted for drug consumption offences.

Read the full article on Channel News Asia: HIV-positive man who avoided taking test, possibly infecting others, gets jail

Analysis:

Typically, the law does not criminalise something that are matters of individual privacy, like one’s medical records or health. However, where one has been negligent in managing the outbreak of infectious diseases, the law has an interest in ensuring that such persons are punished for it. In doing so, the law seeks to control the spread of infectious diseases in Singapore.

By refusing to undergo treatment when he was repeatedly informed that he had sexual contact with someone who tested HIV-positive and continuing to engage in unprotected sex with others, he had risked infecting all his sexual partners. Such behaviour must be punished because he had not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of HIV infection and had indeed harmed others.

Even if others had not been infected by him, his wilful blindness with regard to his own HIV infection would have been sufficient to merit his punishment. He had lied to NHPU about being regularly tested and had refused to be tested despite the high likelihood that he might be infected. Further, he had unprotected sex with others without informing them about his possible HIV-positive status. 

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. If there were no other parties who were infected by this man, do you think that his sentence should be reduced? Should we consider the consequences and outcomes in determining the culpability or morality of a particular action?
  2. How can we encourage people who are having unprotected sex to go for regular screening? What about those whose immigration statuses depend on having a clean bill of health?

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘wilful’: done deliberately; intentional
  2. ‘culpability’: responsibility for wrongdoing or failure

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