Criminal Law Discriminates Against HIV Patients, Experts Say

AIDS-Hilfen Österreichs, an expert group that defends the rights of AIDS and HIV patients, presented a position paper yesterday criticizing discrimination by the courts and calling for the de-stigmitization of HIV-positive people under criminal law, according to a statement published on October 25th.

They are calling for laws to be updated in line with new medical insights: People with HIV who follow their treatment plans and keep viral loads at undetectable levels present no medical danger to others, they say.

“Unprotected sex between an HIV-positive person with an HIV-negative person can have not just health consequences, but legal ones,” they said a statement. In the past, even HIV-positive people who were receiving effective treatment and did not transmit disease faced criminal penalties, though AIDS-Hilfen noted that, “Happily, the OLG Graz (Oberlandesgerichtshof, the higher regional court) decided in 2020 that a successful HIV therapy precludes criminal liability.”

The experts are referring specifically to paragraphs 178 and 179 in the criminal code, which handles the intentional or negligent endangerment of people with transmissible diseases. The Austrian criminal code foresees prison time of up to three years for actions that could cause the transmission of disease.

People with HIV who regularly take their medication and whose viral load is under the traceability limit “do not present a danger,” said the organisations.

“It is high time that criminal law follows scientific findings,” said Andrea Brunner of Aids Hilfe Wien.

Regular and effective therapy curbed the transmission of the HIV-virus, which means that people affected are not legally endangering others with sexual intercourse. Because there was no risk of transmission, then the offence stated in paragraph 178 (“danger of transmission”) was not given, said the organisations.

AIDS-Hilfen said that the continued prosecution of HIV-positive people for having sex with non-HIV-positive people — even in cases where transmission is medically impossible — stigmatizes the disease, discriminates against HIV-positive people and could create, in the worst case, a disincentive for at-risk people to be tested for HIV, or could create a climate where open discussion about HIV becomes taboo.

For years, Vienna hosted the Life Ball, which brought international celebrities together to raise money for AIDS research and battle stigmatization.

Reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.