HOWEVER SERIOUS his intent, D.C. Council member John Ray has a bad amendment in mind for this city's effective antidiscrimination laws. Mr. Ray says he will introduce legislation that would specifically bar discrimination against victims of AIDS. His proposal would add this provision to the local human rights act, even though the current law already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation and physical handicap, among other factors. To append AIDS to this list is wrong not because the victims of this disease are universally accepted or because they should be ostracized: to cite a specific disease in this context is to invite all sorts of additional legally and medically murky grounds for litigation, when other approaches to caring for AIDS victims exist.
There is no question that, as Mr. Ray says, people battling the ravages of this disease also "battle prejudice and ignorance." Unfounded prejudice is one thing, but given the inadequate state of medical knowledge about AIDS, nonvictims do have legitimate concerns about the spread of any deadly virus. They, too, are entitled to reasonable protections. In any event, attempting to predetermine, define and catalogue each and every possible condition of health that might contribute to instances of discrimination of some kind is not an effective or sound response.
Protections for all people do exist in housing, employment, public education and accommodations. If the known facts about AIDS can be made more widely known, instances of unconstitutional discrimination might decrease significantly, and the cases of discrimination that do occur could still be challenged.
What medical authorities do say at this point is that victims do not contaminate clothing, furniture or other objects, and that children do not acquire the disease simply by being in the same classroom with a youngster who is a victim. Much more needs to be known, certainly. In December, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has scheduled a conference to educate the public as well as teachers, health care staff, prison guards and others who come in contact with AIDS victims. This seems a more constructive regional endeavor than any quick push for a confusing clause in local law.