HIV lawyers help fight stigma

June 11, 2018
Article Source
Law Times

If the law and societal attitudes to HIV had advanced as fast as the science associated with the virus, Ryan Peck might well be out of a job.

"In the 1980s, an HIV diagnosis was understood to be a death sentence, and you had people dying left, right and centre here in Canada and in the U.S.," says Peck, executive director of the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, which is devoted to providing free legal services to people living with the virus.

By the time Peck joined HALCO in 2001 as an articling student, researchers had developed a firm grip on their understanding of the virus, and pro­gress has only accelerated since then.

"Antiretroviral therapy has completely transformed the face of HIV," Peck says. "It's a chronic, manageable disease, akin to something like diabetes; as long as you're taking your medication every day and looking after yourself, you can lead a pretty happy, normal, healthy life."

Unfortunately, he says, public opinion on the subject has evolved on a considerably slower scale, creating a host of legal issues for HIV-positive individuals and providing plenty of work for HALCO.

"What is still the hallmark of an HIV diagnosis is the very real stigma and accompanying discrimination," he says, noting that a 2012 attitudinal tracking survey conducted for Public Health Canada found that 15 per cent of respondents feel afraid of people living with HIV/AIDS and 24 per cent would feel uncomfortable putting on a sweater once worn by someone with the virus.

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