California AIDS Ballot Measure Alarms Medical Community
Jun. 30, 1986
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ An initiative placed on California's November ballot by backers of extremist Lyndon LaRouche to ''quarantine and isolate'' AIDS patients is raising warnings by medical officials that it will expand, not limit, the spread of AIDS.
Other opponents of the measure cite potential cost in the billions of dollars if the state enacted it and seriously tried to enforce it.
The California Medical Society describes the proposal as ''irrational ... inappropriate and misguided,'' and has taken an early lead in opposing it, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and leaders of both major political parties.
''This type of repressive and discriminatory action will not serve to limit the epidemic, but rather could prolong the spread of this terrible disease. The fear of quarantine or other discriminatory measures will make people reluctant to be tested,'' said Dr. Mervyn Silverman of San Francisco, chairman of the CMA's task force on AIDS.
Furthermore, state officials say, quarantine would serve no medical purpose because there are no documented cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome ever being transmitted by casual contact - only by sexual intercourse, transfusions of infected blood and sharing of contaminated needles by drug users.
''It's going to endanger the lives of many Californians if it passes because, fearing social isolation, individuals at risk will avoid early medical intervention, or even infection testing, driving AIDS underground,'' adds Bruce Decker, chairman of Republican Gov. George Deukmejian's Citizens Advisory Commission on AIDS.
''What you're talking about is concentration camps,'' said Dr. Laurens White, another CMA spokesman and former San Francisco director of public health.
''If it becomes possible for a health officer to enforce blood tests and enforce quarantining, then the gay community is simply going to stop seeing anybody who might decide they're a threat.''
The California branch of LaRouche's political organization collected signatures of 683,576 voters, nearly double the 393,835 signatures required, to place the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Many of the signatures were collected by LaRouche backers carrying signs saying only ''Sign here to help stop AIDS.''
Since the signature drive, however, there has been no active campaigning in support of the measure.
According to an official summary of the measure's legal language, it would ''compel health officers to fully exercise existing discretionary powers in order to control the spread of AIDS,'' specifically including ''isolation and quarantine.''
White said physicians consider isolation and quarantine appropriate only under very rare circumstances of extreme danger.
''On an annual basis, in all of California, it probably doesn't amount to 100 cases, ... and not on a long-term basis,'' White said, while LaRouche's initiative could seek to quarantine an estimated 250,000 people indefinitely.
In San Francisco, White added, that could mean quarantining 50,000 or more of the city's 720,000 residents.
White says AIDS tests cost $50 to $150 each, and Decker says estimating what it would cost to enforce quarantines of hundreds of thousands of AIDS patients is ''probably beyond calculation.''
And if quarantines force AIDS patients to quit jobs, Decker said, ''they are going to seek public assistance. If you figure there are 250,000 infected individuals in California, and 100,000 are put on public rolls at $11,000 a year each, you are talking about a billion a year.''
LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee has published a 133-page report detailing an alleged international AIDS conspiracy.
It says the ''Soviet war machine'' is using AIDS as a biological war weapon against the United States and that AIDS ''could conceivably wipe out every U.S. man, woman and child by 1991.'' It also claims the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have allowed AIDS to flourish in Africa to reduce the ''excess eaters'' population.
''In order to ensure that the rapid spread of AIDS is halted, nothing less than universal screening, and then, under full medical care, 'isolating' or 'quarantining' all individuals who are in the active 'carrier' state must be conducted,'' the report says.