My friend is considering volunteering for an AIDS vaccine human trial. Supposedly it's not terribly risky, but it is kind of a hassle. He would have to come in to get tested at this facility for five years because otherwise the dead virus they're injecting him with could give him a false positive. They said there's a slight chance that he'd be at higher risk of contracting HIV if he were exposed. Setting aside my confusion about how exactly the trial works, I still feel conflicted. On the one hand, this is really important research and I'm proud of him for being part of it, but on the other, what if he moves before the five years are out, or what if there are more risks or side effects they don't know about or something? I guess what I'm asking is should I try and talk him out of it? Or am I a big jerk for hesitating and not volunteering myself?
Yes, this is complicated. Ultimately, everyone has to determine the level of risk they are willing to put themselves in—same as deciding whether/how to fuck someone, I suppose. It is a good thing your friend is considering doing. I know it's tough to find volunteers for human trials sometimes, and you know, thankfully we're past the era when prisoners or other vulnerable populations would be forcibly volunteered. (Right? CIA? I hope?)
Obviously an AIDS vaccine would save thousands (millions?) of lives (if the people who needed it most could afford it). Your friend is an adult, and if you think he fully understands the possible risks involved, then I wouldn't try to talk him out of it.
As far as you being a jerk: no way. It is completely understandable to be hesitant about something like that, even if the risks are minimal. I know that I, personally, based on no science or fact, am suspicious as fuck of the pharmaceutical industry, and would be cautious about signing any waiver I was presented with unless it was a last resort kind of thing. Perhaps this trial is through a university, I dunno, I still tend to be paranoid about anything with the potential to make that much money.
In a way, though, this question gets at the strange public discourse around HIV and AIDS. From the people trying to do prevention work, we get the message that if you don't use a barrier in every single instance of sex YOU WILL GET AIDS AND YOU WILL DIE. Which, ok, they're trying to scare folks into safer sex practices, fair enough.
But that is certainly not necessarily the reality of people who are living with HIV or AIDS. I mean, yes, again, access to affordable drugs and healthcare is paramount and not universal, but there are tons of HIV positive people who are living long, happy lives, who have safe and good sex, caring partners, good jobs, all the things that, according to some prevention talk, a person with HIV can't have.
I guess my point is that while American attitudes about sickness, disability, and death are sort of strange and fucked up in general, the discourse about HIV and AIDS, with all the cultural baggage it carries (homophobia, classism, the othering of Africa and Africans, etc.) is especially fraught. Which is all to say: this shit is complicated. Different people might make different decisions about participating in such a trial, and that's ok.
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