Ignorance is bliss? HIV and moral duties and legal duties to forewarn

R Bennett, Heather Draper, Lucy Frith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1997, a court in Cyprus jailed Pavlos Georgiou for fifteen months for knowingly infecting a British woman, Janet Pink, with HIV-1 through unprotected sexual intercourse. Pink met Georgiou in January 1994 whilst on holiday. She discovered that she had contracted the virus from him in October 1994 but continued the relationship until July 1996 when she developed AIDS. She returned to the UK for treatment and reported Georgiou to the Cypriot authorities. There have been a number of legal cases involving deliberate transmission of HIV but most have involved forced exposure to infected bodily fluids for example, rape or biting, and have been dealt with using the existing legislation for rape or assault. While it is often difficult to prove responsibility for transmission in cases of forced exposure to HIV, it is even more contentious in cases like those of Janet Pink where an individual has consented to sex but claims that he/she was not forewarned of his/her partner's HIV-positive status. At present there is no specific criminal offence of having unprotected sexual intercourse without disclosing one's HIV-positive status but a prosecution could possibly be brought under any one of a number of existing offences. Perhaps a change of policy needs to be considered. The Home Office has issued a consultation document which outlines a proposal that will allow the criminalisation of intentional transmission of diseases, like HIV, that are likely to cause serious harm. This revised legislation would cover all other potentially fatal diseases (including salmonella and legionnaire's disease,for instance) but seems primarily to be targeted at HIV transmission. Should transmission of HIV through consensual sex, without the HIV-positive status of the individual being disclosed, be an offence? This question, and that of whether there is a moral obligation to disclose a positive HIV status prior to having a sexual relationship is the subject of this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-15
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2000


  • duty to warn
  • enforcing obligation
  • ethics
  • HIV
  • infectious disease


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