The upcoming marriage of an HIV-infected woman, under the assumed name of Xiaoqin in this article, and her boyfriend, a healthy man, has sparked unprecedented debate on whether HIV carriers or AIDS patients should be allowed to enter wedlock.
As a HIV carrier, does Xiaoqin have right to get married? Is she too selfish judging from moral principles? In her future family life, can she guarantee that her beloved husband be immune from the deadly virus? And can modern medical means secure them a healthy baby if they do want a child?
With these questions our reporter interviewed Hao Yang, official in charge of AIDS control with the nation's Ministry of Health.
It is Xiqoqin's own right to get married, said Hao, adding that according to Health Ministry's regulations, AIDS patients should "postpone" their marriage while for HIV carriers who apply for wedding, both persons should receive medical consultation.
Marriage is a law-mandated right for everybody, Hao pointed out, whether one side or both sides are infected, and what health departments can do is to provide them medical advice and tell them how to avoid spread of diseases. As for AIDS, the couple could theoretically avoid infection if they use quality condoms in an absolutely correct way. However, it is still unknown whether their child, born as a result of normal sexual relations, will be infected.
There will be no 100 percent security between HIV couples if they only use condoms, said doctor Zhang Fujie, who has long been engaged in China's AIDS control and prevention work. What's more, if no other supplementary measure is taken, it is quite possible that the healthy side be infected when they try to have a child. Without medical interference, there is still as much as 15 to 40 percent chance that the baby contracts HIV from the mother even if his father remains clean of the virus.
Then is there any medical means to help HIV carriers to give birth to a healthy baby?
China is also studying how to cut off the mother-child infection channel, doctor Zhang said. The infection is usually believed to take place during three stages-when the child is in womb, being delivered and breast fed. Then the corresponding protective measures are to have the mother take medicine after 14 weeks of pregnancy, adopt Cesarean operation and artificially breed the child. Through these ways developed countries have successfully lowered the mother-child infection rate to under-2 percent.
Talking about HIV carriers getting married and giving birth to child, associate professor Cong Yali with Beijing University said this is not all against law and not in conflict with moral codes.
Marriage is everybody's right, a law-mandated right equally shared by healthy people, patients who are allowed by law to marry, HIV carriers and AIDS patients. Although the Ministry regulations advise patients of certain diseases, including the AIDS, to postpone their marriage, there exists no legal problem as long as the two sides are in full knowledge of each other's condition and still insist on getting married. They are also entitled to have offspring. The society, especially health departments, can only tell them the risk of possible infection and which department they should turn to if they want a healthy baby, instead of depriving or restricting their right to give birth. "The fundamental duty of clinical medicine is to cure people, no matter what disease they contract, and how much money is need for treatment", Cong stressed.
Of course, such couples should be fully prepared both mentally and financially, and even if the baby is infected, they are responsible to have the baby enjoy the rights shared by all others.
We will basically cut off the spread of HIV from infected people to healthy population if we could guarantee blood security, take protected sex and conduct HIV supervision and treatment on pregnant women. The medical science is forever progressing, and the progress is gradually changing people's attitude towards AIDS. Now with an official figure of 1 million HIV population, we should hold an equal, tolerant attitude towards HIV carriers and AIDS patients to guarantee that they enjoy the same rights in education, employment, marriage and child having with common people, which will help to check the spread of the disease and protect more effectively the society as a whole.
(People's Daily November 29, 2002)