Op-Ed: Answering the Call
World AIDS Awareness Day, being observed on December 1, comes with disturbing news – according to the United Nations, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has reached a new peak, with more than 40 million people worldwide living with HIV. More than one million people in the United States alone are living with the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
From the moment of diagnosis, the legal landscape changes dramatically for people living with HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that a referral to legal services is one of the first things that should be provided when a person learns that he or she is HIV positive.
In addition to overwhelming health concerns, HIV positive patients are faced with an array of complex legal challenges. Must they disclose their HIV status to their employer? What medical benefits are available to them? Can a same sex partner make health care decisions for them? How can they ensure their children’s welfare in case they become incapacitated?
In response to the CDC recommendation, the American Bar Association is undertaking to educate lawyers about the legal issues that individuals living with HIV/AIDS encounter and to urge them to provide needed help. Answering the Call, a nationwide public service project of the ABA Young Lawyers Division, provides information on HIV/AIDS related legal issues and tools for conducting legal consultations, or “check-ups,” for people with HIV/AIDS in their community.
Using the check-up, lawyers can identify the legal needs of someone living with HIV/AIDS before those needs become problematic, and refer the individual to the appropriate community services. The educational materials cover a wide range of AIDS related legal issues, including privacy and confidentiality, discrimination, housing, immigration and insurance.
All lawyers have an important role in this effort; they need not practice any specific area of law. The legal check-up can be easily implemented in any community, no matter how large or small.
I urge lawyers to answer the call by joining in the fight against AIDS. Visit our web site, www.abanet.org/yld, learn how you can participate. A little of your time and expertise can go a long way toward easing the burden of someone living with HIV/AIDS. The help you give could mean the difference between life and death. What greater service to a fellow human being could a lawyer provide?