William H. Ford 2013-06-27 02:45:50
AIDS is perhaps the major medical and legal challenge confronting society in our lifetime. The statistics and projections are staggering. As of July 1988, more than 4,500 Texans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 2,600 have already died. It is estimated that by the end of 1992, 45,000 Texans will have been diagnosed to have AIDS. Perhaps 100,000 Texans are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) at the present time and it is feared that as many as 250,000 Texans will have been infected by the year 1991. Given these alarming numbers, the demands on our health care system in the immediate future will obviously be tremendous. Less apparent, but perhaps as vital to the quality of life of those who have AIDS is the extraordinary and unusual pressure that will be placed on our system of justice. The legal profession must take a leadership role among professionals and respond to the challenge posed by AIDS in several ways. First, we must remember our ethical obligation to assure access to the legal system for all members of society. People with AIDS and people infected with HIV are more likely than the general population to encounter legal problems in the areas of employment, housing, insurance, access to health care, and education. They also must address the estate planning issues confronting anyone with a potentially terminal illness. Regrettably, as in many areas of society, those with the greatest needs also face the greatest obstacles in realizing the solutions to their problems. Many PWA’s (persons with AIDS) reach the point where they are no longer able to work and are therefore unable to afford legal counsel. This economic crisis is often the byproduct of the combined effect of jobs that are lost due to discrimination and the reality that the medical expenses necessary to treat this killer can be exorbitant. Secondly, attorneys must thoroughly educate themselves about AIDS. Only by truly understanding the disease can we shed any irrational fears that may affect our ability to represent the client or family of an AIDS carrier. There is no justification for treating a client who has AIDS any differently than one would treat any other client. Only examining our preconceptions about persons with AIDS can we eliminate the prejudices which might affect our ability to represent the client with this disease. Finally, the legal profession must promote and encourage the establishment and enforcement of the legal rights of person with AIDS. Protection against discrimination must be ensured while remaining sensitive to the public’s uncertainty and lack of information or disinformation which presently exists. Great effort and caution must be taken to balance these two competing interests. For years, Texas attorneys have ensured the right to legal services for those who are economically less fortunate through pro bono and charitable activities. It is now time that we redefine those in need and recognize and accept our responsibility to expand the pro bono activities to provide quality access to our legal system for a new and controversial segment of society, those with AIDS. In making this leap, we must realize that as lawyers, it is not our place to make a social judgment or determination of the merit or demerits of one’s lifestyle or life choices. It is simply our obligation to ensure access to justice for all. If we are not able to make this transition solely based upon our duty to our system of justice, then I suggest we need only consider the added ingredient of the numbers of tragically innocent victims of this disease who also face discrimination, economic and legal hurdles. I am proud to say that the legal profession is beginning to respond to this call. Groups of attorneys in several Texas communities have already recognized the need for pro bono legal services for low-income PWA’s and have established projects through which such services are organized. The Texas Young Lawyers Association has also responded. Last June TYLA established the AIDS and the Law Committee whose purpose is to educate lawyers on the legal issues related to AIDS and to encourage the provision of pro bono legal services to persons with AIDS. In cooperation with the AIDS Legal Resource Project and Texas Lawyers Care, the TYLA AIDS Committee is sponsoring an AIDS and the Law Conference on March 31, 1989. This all-day seminar, which will be held at the Texas Law Center in Austin, will cover a wide range of legal issues often confronted by persons with AIDS. Medical aspects and social considerations which can be critical in properly addressing the legal needs of the client with AIDS will be addressed. Tuition will be waived for any registering attorney who agrees to provide pro bono legal services to indigent persons with AIDS. The seminar, which will be available statewide on videotape, and the articles which follow in this Texas Bar Journal, will hopefully educate and sensitize Texas attorneys to better represent clients with AIDS. Nationally, the legal profession is responding as well. In 1987 the American Bar Association created the AIDS Coordination Committee. The committee has put together an extensive document on the legal issues of AIDS and will be recommending policy to the ABA Board of Governors. Already the ABA Board of Governors, at the urging of the Young Lawyers Division and the Individual Rights and Responsibility Section, has endorsed the enactment of federal legislation which would prohibit HIV related discrimination. The board of governors has also supported federal action to encourage voluntary testing for the HIV antibody and the provision of counseling with the understanding that confidentiality of test results and any identifying information will be protected. This is undeniably a complex and difficult situation in light of the many social and economic factors involved. Our system of justice does not provide access based on these demographic or social distinctions, rather it provides that the rule of law which controls our society should apply to all of its members. As attorneys, we have an obligation to ensure that application. To read more about AIDS, go to texasbar.com/aids.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.