Criminal transmission of an infectious disease

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QuotationMarkLeft.png Transmitting a sexual infection which will have serious, perhaps life threatening, consequences for the infected person can amount to grievous bodily harm [that is, really serious harm] under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Therefore, the intentional or reckless transmission of an infection can constitute the offence of inflicting or causing grievous bodily harm. The relevant offences for a prosecutor to consider are sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. QuotationMarkRight.pngCrown Prosecution Service[1]

When a patient has a serious infection, they (as do all individuals) have a duty not to cause intentional injury or suffering to another party.

This has been most relevant in recent times with the prosecution of individuals for infecting others with HIV unintentionally when they haven't disclosed their status (even if the sexual encounter was consensual). Patients who are engaging in such behaviour should be warned that there is a risk that may be criminally liable if transmission were to occur.

There have been several successful prosecutions in UK, including those of:

A doctor might act defensibly to breach confidentiality in such situations and inform a partner at risk, or public health, or indeed the police. They would have to be able to demonstrate a significant risk, and a potentially serious consequence. A doctor does not have a duty to protect a third party against all possible harms, but warning a person at risk gives them useful choices about how to protect themselves. Whether breaching confidentiality in this way is a moral and/or legal duty, on the other hand, is more controversial.[6]

Whether or not the infected individual has a moral duty not to infect others is also problematic, especially where this may impose severe limitations on their own freedoms. It could be argued that such a duty (to society) only exists where society fulfills its duty towards the individual (in terms of protection of rights, contribution to health care etc).[7]

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