Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: AIDS patients have rights too

It is difficult for Taiwan to expect to be lauded as a nation that respects human rights when people like Lin Ting (林頂), the deputy director-general of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), make comments like those he uttered last week.

On Friday, Lin urged women diagnosed as HIV-positive to avoid getting pregnant. He then said that those who find themselves pregnant can seek help from the authorities in getting an abortion. He also urged doctors to encourage HIV-positive women to consider this option.

The background for his statement was that most women who have contracted AIDS in Taiwan are intravenous drug users, a large percentage of whom reside in prison, where the disease is identified via routine screening.

But what is Lin really trying to say, and what message do his words send to the rest of the world?

During his oration Lin admitted that, if treated early, a mother can be prevented from passing the disease on to her newborn child. Was Lin therefore making the announcement on behalf of the cash-strapped national insurance program to combat the cost of the expensive drugs these women would require, or was he suggesting that women who contract HIV forfeit the right to reproduce, and that drug addicts are not entitled to the same treatment as other people?

It is doubtful Lin would relay the same message to a businessman's wife who had contracted HIV from her husband after he had been philandering in China.

Whatever the reasons for Lin's announcement, this is not the kind of message that showers the authorities with glory, especially those who prattle on about Taiwan being a nation that respects human rights. These comments are the sort of thing we expect from across the Taiwan Strait, where discussion of AIDS is largely taboo, figures showing the true extent of the disease are fudged and activists who try to expose the truth are harassed and arrested.

What people with HIV/AIDS need more than anything is help: counseling so they can understand the reality of their predicament and ways that they can deal with it. They do not need a government official saying that they are inferior and telling them they must exterminate their unborn children.

Taiwan is one of the most forward-thinking nations in Asia in regard to equal opportunity, with women taking a strong role in many areas of society such as politics, business and commerce. But time and again the government has claimed to champion the cause of human rights while making little progress on important issues like human trafficking, abolishing the death penalty or improving the circumstances of disadvantaged groups like teenage mothers, HIV/AIDS sufferers and drug addicts.

With the pending abolition of the minimum wage for foreign workers, the government continues to allow foreign laborers to be treated like slaves, even after last year's Kaohsiung riots exposed the corruption, nepotism and cruelty endemic among labor brokers.

Politicians and government officials can talk about Taiwan being a human rights paradise until they are blue in the face, but until the government starts taking a more humane and committed approach to problems like HIV/AIDS and brings people like the CDC deputy director-general into line for making irresponsible comments, independent observers here and abroad will conclude that human rights in this country is a slogan as much as a reality.

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