Counter-Productive

THE MAIL

To the Editors of The Crimson:

Good judgment, solid information, and some generosity of spirit are going to be required from all of us if the AIDS\epidemic is to be contained before it devastates a generation. Unfortunately, none of these qualities characterizes either Vernon Mark's proposals, as reported in the Dec. 6 Crimson, or the Crimson's coverage in its article headlined "Harvard Doctor Urges State AIDS Test."

Dr. Mark's proposals were made at a symposium whose right-wing political sponsorship was not mentioned in the Crimson's article. They were put forth over two weeks before the Crimson saw fit to give the story front-page play in an article juxtaposed to another on the problems with the Science Center Men's room.

Although the Crimson had all that time to prepare its story, it gave only a partial and somewhat hazy account of Dr. Mark's position. It also omitted information that would be regarded as essential background by journalistic standards of even modest integrity: that Dr. Mark has, in the past, advocated brain surgery as at least a partial solution to the problem of urban violence.

Dr. Mark proposes to screen the blood of everyone in Massachusetts for the AIDS-associated virus, LAV/HTLV-III, and then to have carriers who meet some ill-defined eriterion of "sexual promiscuity" quarantined on an island in Buzzard's Bay.

The only balancing voice the Crimson offered was that of William Curran, a lawyer. If the Crimson had chosen to consult medical authorities on AIDS, its article might have taken account of the following points.

1. Testing of the sort that Dr. Mark proposes is not feasible and if it were would not provide useful information. The blood tests currently available cannot accurately identify infectious carriers of the AIDS-related virus, LAV/HTLV-III.

2. Even if the tests were capable of discriminating the infectious from the non-infectious, the number of carriers in Massachusetts and the way they are distributed in the population means that quarantine would be utterly ineffective. Moreover, it would be necessary to seal off the borders of the Commonwealth and permit no one to enter without being tested. (At least until recently, in Massachusetts there have been two major risk factors for acquiring antibodies to HTLV-III: having sex with partners from a high-risk area, principally New York, and engaging in unprotected anal intercourse. In Massachusetts, as well as in the Cleveland area and in Copenbagen, where recent studies have been conducted, a history of "promiscuity" as such has not clearly distinguished carriers from non-carriers.)

3. The threat of quarantine would be likely to have a profoundly adverse effect on attempts to control spread of the epidemic. AIDS will not be contained if the threat of reprisal drives gay men underground. The best hope is through openness and education. Repression will be as ineffective with this disease as it was with cholera in the last century and with several sexually transmitted diseases in this.

It is disappointing to see the Crimson lending its editorial support, in the guise of reporting, to an approach that is both counter-productive and inhumane. William Bennett '62, M.D. '69   Editor, Harvard Medical School Health Letter