AIDS and Needles
To the Editor:
In my letter in the February issue commenting on Michael A. Fumento’s “AIDS: Are Heterosexuals at Risk?” [November 1987], I omitted one point that warrants stressing: we should immediately make it possible for fertile women with AIDS to be sterilized. (I hope persuasion will suffice.) Nobody should conceive AIDS-infected babies. Yet statistics indicate that a growing number of babies with AIDS are being born, fated to die an early and painful death.
While I am at it: I advocated “decriminalizing the sale of needles” to drug addicts, not, as Mr. Fumento suggested in his reply, free distribution of needles. The cost of the needles is negligible, but free distribution would mean that: (1) the government would go through elaborate procedures to determine who is to supply the needles, wasting time and in all likelihood buying the wrong ones; (2) the government would go through elaborate procedures to determine who is a bona-fide addict entitled to receive the needles (some bureaucratic authority would have to be charged with the determination, and the process would be time-consuming, costly, and arbitrary); (3) since the government has indicated it would want to evaluate the effect of its new policy, a selection of drug addicts would be necessary to determine who is to receive the needles and who is to be in the control group—more bureaucracy, cost, and arbitrariness; (4) finally, bureaucratic studies with volumes of statistics would “evaluate” the results of the “experiment”—with predictably ambiguous results and warring bureaucracies. All this, as I have indicated, would be time-consuming, costly, and unnecessary. There is no way, incidentally, of determining the success or failure of the “experiment” with free needles, since the recipients would donate them after use to nonrecipients. Never mind—this is the accepted way of spending and swelling the bureaucracy.
Simply withdrawing the foolish laws or regulations which prohibit the purchase of needles without a prescription would cost nothing. Therefore, it won’t be done, for politicians and bureaucrats seem to have sworn a sacred oath never to do anything that costs nothing and does not require administration.
Nobody can ever be certain that the legal sale of needles will reduce AIDS infection. Addicts have many motives other than costs and legal obstacles for sharing needles. Yet the unavailability of legal needles has not prevented anyone from becoming an addict. Thus if the legal availability of needles possibly prevents even one AIDS infection, we have made a net gain. “Free distribution,” however, despite its seductive ring, will delay and probably prevent this net gain in the end.
Ernest van den Haag
New York City