By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com February 27 2003 1:00 AM ET
The South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on a bill that would authorize state health officials to notify prosecutors if they believe a person is "intentionally spreading" HIV through unprotected sex or the sharing of injection drug paraphernalia. The bill would allow the South Dakota Department of Health to release a person's HIV status, which is otherwise confidential information, to prosecutors if a judge orders the department to do so. "Protecting the public's health is our number 1 priority in the health department," said state health secretary Doneen Hollingsworth, who backs the measure. "There is potentially a greater public health risk if we're not able to provide that information to law enforcement in very, very rare instances."
But opponents of the bill said it would cast the health department in the role of prosecutor. "It's blurring the line between the health department and prosecutors and that is a real problem to us," said Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas. Others believe that if the bill becomes law, some at-risk people will choose to never be tested for HIV antibodies. "Many people at risk for HIV will not seek testing if they believe law enforcement authorities will be able to easily access their test results," said Zita Lazzarini, a public health lawyer at the University of Connecticut Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. She added that the release of HIV status information "should not be allowed at the discretion of public health officials alone."