August 19, 2006


Chanting the mantra of harm reduction (Tom Blackwell, National Post, August 19th, 2006)

About midway through the International AIDS Conference, Dr. Mark Wainberg, the bookish-looking AIDS scientist from Montreal and the meeting's co-chair, found himself in the thick of a chanting demonstration of prostitutes.

As the sex workers and their supporters, including a statuesque Indian transvestite, shouted out for legalization, Dr. Wainberg shouted along. As they punched the air in defiance, the respected microbiologist punched, too.

At this massive and extraordinary conference, supporting such causes is almost compulsory. As is speaking out for the rights of injection drug addicts, lamenting the plight of the overlooked transsexual and tolerating promiscuity, so long as that multiple-partner sex involves condoms.
Abstinence is a dirty word and human rights take precedence over quarantine.

To some outsiders it might seem like political correctness run amok. But as the largest-ever AIDS conference ended yesterday, researchers and agency leaders said the science is irrefutable that judgmental approaches to the groups most at risk of getting HIV do not work; trying non-coercively to change that behaviour or make it less likely to spread HIV -- something called harm reduction -- is the best hope.

"Yes, a number of people can get emotional about the issues ... but the fact is that it ought to be scientific agendas that drive what we do," Dr. Wainberg said in an interview.

"And it's as simple as this: Harm reduction works -- that is established medicine -- abstinence [programs] does not work and people lie about their sexuality and their sexual behaviour all the time...."

"Anyone who would articulate that being faithful is the solution to this problem is clearly putting their heads in the sand," Dr. Wainberg said.

It’s too bad the reporter wasn’t quick enough to ask Dr. Wainberg how science and sex-workers came to have identical agendas.

Posted by Peter Burnet at August 19, 2006 10:21 AM

I don't think "harm reduction" means what he thinks it means, nevermind "scientific."

Posted by: oj at August 19, 2006 10:58 AM

That's like saying "clearly, warning people that crossing train tracks in the path of an oncoming train doesn't work, since people are still being killed by trains. We should tear down the crossing signals and gates, and make everyone drive a tank."

The judgmental approach does work, for the vast majority of people who aren't reckless idiots. The train crossing signals do work for people who aren't idiots. The approach mentioned above is the equivalent of depriving normal people of the benefit of the signals that they are smart enough to act upon, and therefore will end up causing more preventable deaths from people crossing train tracks not knowing that a train is coming.

The non-judgmental approach levels mores down to the most reckless level, and then expects people to make rationally irresponsible decisions, like wearing condoms during soul-degrading anonymous sex and drug use. It is based on an oxymoron. Responsible recklessness. Or put differently, affirmative self-negation. People who engage in anonymous sex and who inject drugs are commiting slow suicide. You don't wear safety gear when you are commiting suicide.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 19, 2006 11:17 AM

To assert that practicing dangerous behaviors is a human right demeans being human and the idea of rights.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 19, 2006 11:20 AM

Ed is right about this. One cannot be said to have a "right" to act in an unnatural, unreasonable manner. There is a difference between freedom and arbitrariness.

Baseball caps--baseball caps are the key. One does not have a "right" to wear one's baseball cap over one ear, that defeating the natural purpose of the cap, which is to shade one's eyes from the sun. Yet millions do so, not for any purpose, but because they can, because they strain to proclaim the great non serviam, to demonstrate that they are "free" to do anything they feel like, whether they have a reason to do so or not. Perverts.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 19, 2006 12:36 PM