Deadly Diseases and Consent

I would like to re-introduce you to what has been discussed in class as an ENGL-101 life preserver: consent. Consent is a huge part of what this course is about, and I have found that there are more situations where consent is important than the short list of what I initially thought.

Consent is a huge topic in Clay’s Ark, as previously discussed in our group blog post; however, the topic of consent doesn’t just stop there. The plot of Clay’s Ark revolves around the idea of an organism taking control of a host. This organism compels the host to infect others with the disease by whatever means necessary: “[Eli] was not an animal, not a rapist, not a murderer. Yet he knew that if he let himself be drawn to the woman, he would rape her. If he raped her, if he touched her at all, she might die” (Butler, 469).

Infecting someone with a disease that has the potential to kill them without their knowledge or consent is more than something that’s happening in the literature for this class. Issues like this are very real and they do happen in real life. There are several cases of infecting others or being infected with a disease that has the potential to be deadly that I want to cover in this blog post.

A question that was on my mind when reading Clay’s Ark was the following: “What are the consequences for knowingly infecting someone with a disease (most likely an STD or STI) without their consent—specifically their informed consent?” By looking into these cases, I did find some answers to this question, and it kept me thinkING throughout writing this post. The first two cases I want to talk about are very similar in nature to each other and to the plot of Clay’s Ark.

According to articles written for AP 1992, a man from Oregon, Alberto Gonzalez, was convicted of attempted murder after knowingly infecting a girl (who was 17 years old at the time of the incident) with HIV. Gonzalez “knew he had the AIDS virus when he had sex with the girl and he knew the consequences” that would go hand in hand with having unprotected sex while having the very disease that would eventually lead to his death. He was reportedly informed that he was HIV-positive four years prior to this. While in prison, Gonzales shared with his fellow inmates that he wanted to and intended to infect women with HIV, and he did.

One of the most important things that came from this case is the precedent it set: those who knowingly infect others with HIV can be held accountable for their actions in a legal sense, including through a prison sentence for attempted murder.

The second case that I wanted to draw attention to is one that happened fairly recently that became very relevant as it had to do with a celebrity. In 2018, R. Kelly was accused of intentionally infecting his former partner with an STD. In an article by Maya Oppenheim of The Independent, she quotes the lawyer of R. Kelly’s former partner in saying the singer had a behavior that could be described as “predatory, controlling and abusive”. It is also believed that this incident is connected to R Kelly’s sex cult and history of sexual misconduct that is chronicled in the documentary series Surviving R. Kelly that aired on Lifetime earlier this year. Though it is not specified what disease he had transmitted to this woman, there were likely effects of the disease that may have compromised her health in some way.

In addition to the obvious connections here to Clay’s Ark (in terms of spreading a disease that has the potential to kill someone), there is a deeper connection. In both of these cases, the victims were considered minors at the time of the incident. In Clay’s Ark, the Maslin twins, Kiera and Rane, are both sixteen years old. This means they were minors too, which adds to the severity of the situation that developed in the community of those infected with the disease.

The connection of the cases involving Gonzalez and R. Kelly with Clay’s Ark becomes very clear after looking at it like this. However, this third case has a bit more of an abstract connection to the novel upon a first look.

The third case has to do with Cuban punks, known as Los Frikis. In the early 1990s, members of Los Frikis intentionally infected themselves with HIV in attempts to draw the attention of the Cuban government to the AIDS epidemic. In addition to infecting themselves knowingly in protest, members of Los Frikis also infected themselves for their own safety and wellbeing. During the 1990s (especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union), Cuba entered a time of extreme poverty known as the Special Period. As a result of the poverty, Frikis felt the need to inject themselves with blood containing HIV in order to gain access to the sanitariums which were used to help those infected. The sanitariums provided individuals with food and shelter, which were scarce during the Special Period. These people, who were trying to enact change and live, were constantly looked down upon by others. In the video interview by VICE, a member of Los Frikis, Gerson Govea, said that the punks were labeled “the worst of society” and “human scum” (among other very negative things).

However, the sanitariums created a shared experience and a sense of community. This can be paralleled with the Clay’s Ark Community. The entire community has the shared experience of living together and living with the disease they were infected with. Additionally, not everyone in the sanitarium was willfully infected as with members of the Clay’s Ark Community who were also not always (or usually) infected knowing what would happen to them. Yoandra Cardoso, a member of Los Frikis, was infected, unknowingly, with HIV. As a result, she was forced to terminate her pregnancy in order to “contain the disease”, as this was prior to the availability of any treatment for HIV.

With the similarities between the literature for the class and events that have happened or are still happening, we can see how this all ties into “real life”, and it is important that we keep these similarities and connections in mind as we look at the literature from various perspectives.

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