My journey over the past 10 or so years living with HIV has been remarkable. At first, I believed I wouldn’t survive the first year. After I did, I began wondering if I could manage the next five. Later, I walked out of my doctor’s office with the realization that I no longer had a terminal illness.
Long ago, I accepted my fate—and during a particularly difficult time in my treatment, even accepted my impending death—but a small part of me always continued to hope. Every few years I would see some excited online article about the promise of a new medical breakthrough. After a while, I became numb to the enthusiasm of those around me whenever these articles were shared.
In 2008, when I was first diagnosed, I was told I had a slim chance at living long enough to be as old as I am now. Less than five years ago, my doctors were hopeful I would make it into my 50s with the promise of a new treatment that put less stress on my liver and kidneys.
Today, my HIV specialist leaves me with positive news. I am healthy, my illness is now a condition that is managed, and there is no reason to believe I won’t live a normal lifespan. My very first medication made me too sick to function. Today, I barely have any side effects.
My life today is so different that I almost can’t believe I survived those years alone. Can you imagine what it would mean for our families and friends if a cure, a genuine cure, could be found? Thus for many, seeing recent headlines that proclaimed “Trump deals huge blow to HIV research with new policy” was likely an incredible shock and deep horror.
Aborted Fetus Tissue and Medical Research
On June 5, the Trump administration announced it would end funding to organizations that use tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research, primarily ending the practice within the National Institutes of Health. The New York Times quoted the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating, “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration.” Researchers responded with shock.
Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University, warned, “It will affect everything from cures for cancer and HIV through to Parkinson’s and dementia.” Gostin continued, “The ban on fetal tissue research is akin to a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.”
The LGBT media article linked above argued that critical HIV medical research relies on using fetal tissue to test experimental treatments. It contends the practice has been ongoing since the 1930s and has been responsible for a multitude of medical advances. There are no substitutes for the research, they argue.
But should a person who believes in the equality of human life and the universal value of humanity accept that answer? Is my only hope for living a life free of HIV to rely on experimentation that uses innocent human beings brutally torn from their mothers’ wombs and tossed aside? Can I even conceive of looking at these tiny lives, erased with casual cruelty, and justify that this tissue is vital to research?
There currently may be no other viable method of testing potential HIV treatments. But can I, in good conscience, accept medical treatment that resulted from the disposal of human life?
In 1932, a medical program titled Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male conducted a medical experiment on 600 black men. Those suffering with Syphilis were intentionally denied medical treatment that could have saved their life. This was excused as a necessary means to discovering viable treatment for the disease.
The men never consented to the experiments. They were completely unaware of what was happening to them. It took decades for the medical community to recognize that this practice was morally and ethically wrong, regardless of the potential benefit to society. The use of aborted fetuses is no different.
How Do We Reconcile This?
When a child is electively aborted, his or her life is determined to have little to no value, which justifies disposing of his or her body in terribly cruel ways. The only value these unborn humans are assigned is of usefulness in medical research.
This kind of neglect for humanity and arbitrary dismissal of individuality is what allowed medical professionals of the past to look at black men and believe they were justified in torturing them for what they believed to be progress. Today, as modern researchers simply view the discarded remains of a once-living human being as “leftover tissue” to experiment on, I challenge our society to argue it is in any way different.
My husband is HIV negative and I look forward to the added decades of my life with him as an unexpected and wonderful gift. I want every person diagnosed with HIV today to feel the same hope and purpose I do, bypassing the years of pain and fear I fought through to get here.
I want a cure; I want a vaccine. I want to be one of the last living humans on Earth to have had HIV. But I am not willing to exploit the countless innocent lives lost to abortion to get there. We can never evolve as a society in our views of humanity as equal and worthy of life and happiness if we believe the corpses of the most vulnerable are a necessary resource for our advancement. We simply must find another way.
Medical research is not lost. The decision to respect the human remains of the most vulnerable in our society does not end hope for those waiting for advancement in medical treatments for their illnesses. Those of us living with HIV are not doomed to never enjoy the freedom a cure could provide because President Trump has taken a profound step in recognizing the absolute value of human beings, regardless of their development.
To see so many in the medical research field argue that exploiting human beings is the only way for medical progress to continue is astonishing and disturbing. We must be better. Despite everything I have gone through, I can’t quietly ignore this atrocity for the yet-unrealized hope it could bring to me and so many others. My life is not more valuable than that of any other person on this planet. No cure is worth the cruel exploitation of human beings.