Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: AIDS? Not in my apartment block

There's bad news and there's good news.

The bad news is that the Taipei District Court ruled on Wednesday that a care facility for sufferers of HIV/AIDS can be forced out of a Taipei apartment complex by the building's management committee. Why? Simply because its presence might be damaging to the psychological health of other residents.

The court ruled that the decision of the committee to throw out sick children and adults violated neither regulations governing building management nor constitutional protections for freedom of residence. The former may be the case, but the latter should provide the Council of Grand Justices with a chance to clarify the concept of freedom in the Constitution.

The court said that the Constitution limits its authority to relations between government and the public, and does not extend to possible breaches of "freedom" in relations between members of the public.

This is a puzzling argument, given that in a liberal democracy the government is simply an extension of public sovereignty over the nation.

More risible, however, was the court's claim that persons with contagious diseases pose a health threat in densely populated areas. As the second most densely populated country of its size or larger in the world, it is quite difficult to find a place in Taiwan with pre-existing infrastructure supporting the sick that isn't in a densely populated area.

And the court's bizarre conception of "contagion" suggests it has lumped HIV/AIDS in with airborne threats such as SARS, bird flu and ebola. The court, sadly, seems to have allowed its legalism to overwhelm hard medical reality.

As for the "psychological health" of the other apartment dwellers, it is tempting to say that any person who is so callous toward the afflicted and so ignorant about the nature of a disease that has been catalogued and discussed for more than 20 years -- and whose modes of transmission are very limited -- is entirely responsible for whatever psychological health problems come his or her way.

Perhaps the court could take up a suggestion from Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) from a few years ago and have HIV/AIDS patients confined to a single village safely away from the capital. Or, even better, perhaps the court could suggest locating them next to the nuclear waste dump on the Aboriginal island of Lanyu (蘭嶼), or even an uninhabited and windswept piece of rock in the Taiwan Strait. It is disappointing that the court instead did not have the courage to name a suitable location.

There is good news, however.

The Department of Health is strongly backing the organization that runs the care facility and is providing funding for an appeal to the grand justices. But even if the appeal is rejected, the public can take considerable comfort from the fact that the department is taking a scientific and humane approach to this problem.

In an era of fear over pandemics -- whether justified or hysterical -- the department's actions bode well for how it will handle medical crises that might affect the nation in the years to come.

Breathtaking ignorance over HIV/AIDS and other medical challenges has gradually spread across this country, and it is responsible for the prejudice and viciousness that has seen HIV-positive students expelled from dormitories, to name only one example.

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