Bioethics Blogs

‘High-Profile and HIV+’ Revives Ethical Questions

This piece was originally published yesterday on
the Fordham News blog

By: Gina Vergel

Actor Charlie Sheen made headlines in 2011 with a number of trips to rehab, his dismissal from hit show Two and a Half Men, and a public meltdown.

Four years later, he’s back in the news, as he revealed he is HIV positive in a TODAY interview with Matt Lauer.

“It’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life,” the 50-year-old actor said to Lauer.

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is living inside the bodies of an estimated 35 million people worldwide. In the United States, 1.2 million people are living with HIV and the U.S. fails to prevent about another 50,000 infections every year. (source)

What does this high profile celebrity having HIV mean for the stigma often associated with the virus, or how the public is educated on the disease?

Fordham’s Celia Fisher, PhD, the director of both Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education and the HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute, said a lot has changed since 1991, when NBA great Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive.

“For those in countries where medication is widely available becoming HIV positive has become a chronic disease, rather than a death sentence on a path towards AIDS,” she said. “The risk of becoming infected has also been reduced through HIV prevention medications such as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) that can prevent the acquisition of HIV, as well as evidence that taking certain HIV medications can lessen the risk of further transmission. There is also growing interest in using emerging technologies for HIV prevention, such as mobile health text reminders to take medication and the use of social media to increase HIV health literacy.”

Despite these medical gains, Fisher said, sexual and gender minority youth in the United States, and women in countries with extreme gender inequities and other marginalized populations, do not have access to these treatments.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.