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A question of harm


Grenville Phillips II

A question of harm

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BARBADOS IS BEING pressured to remove buggery as an offence in the Sexual Offences Act. The two reasons normally given are that morality should not be legislated, and that it will lower the incidence of HIV/AIDS. Let us examine both of these reasons.

Before laws are changed, it is important to first determine the intent of the law. The Sexual Offences Act (Chapter 154) makes it an offence to: rape another person, sexually molest a child, sexually molest an animal, engage in buggery and facilitate prostitution.

A reading of the law reveals that the intent is not to legislate morality as alleged, but to prevent harm. Therefore, the relevant question that needs to be discussed is: what is the harm caused by buggery? An analogy may help to clarify this concept.

People normally use their finger to pick their nose; however, a few may attempt to use their big toe. Is it natural to pick your nose using your big toe? That may be a moral question. However, the relevant legal question is: will picking your nose using your big toe cause you harm?

To get an objectively accurate response, the opinions of medical practitioners should be sought. They may report that, despite some elasticity, the big toe would likely rupture the nose. Should that fact make it an offence to pick your nose using your big toe? Of course not. There are no laws against harming yourself, so pick away. However, since the action will normally cause harm, then it is an offence for one person to harm another in this manner.

If certain activists want the law changed, then they must be prepared to honestly discuss the question of harm.

Now to the question of lowering HIV infection rates. The United Nations secretary general based his recent call for removing buggery as an offence on the UNAIDS-Lancet Commission’s report on Defeating AIDS. Decades ago, cities in North America and Europe changed their laws and cultural traditions to accept and promote the gay lifestyle and provide easy access to HIV education and treatment. Yet, the report admits that in “many American and European cities, HIV incidence in gay men remains high or is increasing, despite an increasingly open and tolerant attitude towards homosexuality”.

Based on the evidence in developed countries, changing laws is not the proven solution to lowering incidence of HIV as claimed by activists. It seems intuitive that any effective solution would actively discourage the principal reasons of transmission, namely rape, promiscuity and intravenous drug use. That is where UNAIDS’s focus should be.

 

Grenville Phillips II

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