If HIV/AIDS is punishment, who is bad?

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 27 (2):231 – 243 (2002)
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HIV/AIDS strikes with the greatest frequency in sub-Saharan Africa, a region lacking resources to deal with this epidemic. To keep millions more people from dying, wealthy countries must provide more help. Yet deeply ingrained biases may distance the sick from those who could provide far more aid. One such prejudice is viewing disease as punishment for sin. This 'punishment theory of disease" ascribes moral blame to those who get sick or those with special relations to them. Religious versions hold that God punishes them in order to castigate, encourage virtue, warn, rehabilitate, or maintain some cosmic order. Its various religious and secular forms are untenable; they lack cogency, risk blaming people unjustly, and jeopardize compassionate care for people. These views are not only irrational but also dangerous because they influence policies and cost lives. We need to cooperate and respond as befits this global public-health disaster and not engage in the misguided and bad faith activity of dividing the world into the blameworthy and blameless.



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