Good Intentions and Taxpayer Money

As long as government is doing something, that action is “good”. Or not:

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is planning a campaign to encourage men at high risk of AIDS to get circumcised in light of the World Health Organization’s endorsement of the procedure as an effective way to prevent the disease.

The taxpayers of New York should not pay for cosmetic surgery. Yes, it has some supposed health benefits regarding HIV, but condoms are more effective. In that context, the surgery is unnecessary because any benefits it might achieve can be achieved without surgery and the corresponding risks. (Malpractice insurance, anyone?) If the government pays for anything, condoms are the way to go.

However, this is government, so when it takes action, it must find extra-special creative ways to be stupid.

In the United States, “New York City remains the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city’s health commissioner, said in an interview. Referring to H.I.V., he said, “In some subpopulations, you have 10 to 20 percent prevalence rates, just as they do in parts of Africa.”

His department has started asking some community groups and gay rights organizations to discuss circumcision with their members, and has asked the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs city hospitals and clinics, to perform the procedure at no charge for men without health insurance.

If you have no insurance, you still get to have sex with fewer consequences! Aren’t New York’s taxpayers city officials generous? But ignore that. The three released studies (which all ended early, remember, despite HIV’s 3-6 month latency period before detection) have not shown any link between circumcision and reduced HIV-infection among men having sex with other men. The research simply isn’t there. To theorize any such link is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

No spontaneous outcry for circumcision has arisen in New York, Dr. Frieden conceded.

“This is not something that has a lot of buzz,” he said.

Like much of what New York City’s Department of Health involves itself with lately.

Nonetheless, Dr. Frieden said, it is logical to assume that circumcision would offer protection in some types of gay sex.

That one comment alone should be enough to force his removal as health commissioner.

Peter Staley, a longtime AIDS activist and co-founder of ACT-UP New York, the Treatment Action Group and, said he was “intrigued” by the idea of offering circumcisions but worried because those in the studies supporting it bore little relation to New York’s risk groups.

“Should we proceed when we don’t have hard data yet on the population here?” he asked. “On the other hand, if we wait the three years it would take to answer that question, how many will be infected in the meantime?”

If “we” wait three years and find out that there is no link, then what? And those “many” new infections will not happen spontaneously, which is what the debate about preventing HIV should be about, anyway. But if we just care enough…

One thought on “Good Intentions and Taxpayer Money”

  1. One would hope that New Yorkers, unlike the vast majority of at-risk Africans, are
    (1) erudite enough,
    (2) wealthy enough
    to use condoms.

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