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Is It Ethical for HIV+ Parents to Have Children?

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The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was first detected almost four decades ago, but a viable cure continues to evade the millions afflicted with HIV/AIDS world over.

AIDS claims the lives of thousands of adults and children every year. Significantly, HIV passes on from parents to their kids. So, this brings to the fore the question: Is it ethical for HIV+ persons to have children, knowing that the child may be orphaned or may contract the disease themselves?

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What is HIV/AIDS?

But before delving into the issue, it’s important to dispel some of the myths around HIV/AIDS. Many confuse HIV with AIDS. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus attacks the immune system, making it susceptible to disease.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (or AIDS) is the condition that develops when the body’s immune system is too weak to fight back.

HIV spreads through bodily fluids like semen, vaginal and anal fluids, breast milk and through the placenta. It does not spread via sweat or saliva. If detected early, it can be suppressed with medication, allowing a person to lead a relatively normal, healthy and long life.

Currently, there is no cure for HIV-AIDS and it can only be controlled till a certain extent with medication.

Indian Population Affected by HIV-AIDS

India is home to the world’s third-highest number of people living with HIV-AIDS.

(Photo: Akriti Paracer/The Quint)
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Children and HIV-AIDS

HIV+ parents can pass on the virus to their children. The virus can be transmitted during the last weeks of pregnancy or even during labour and delivery. It can also be transmitted during breastfeeding.

(Photo: Akriti Paracer/The Quint)
According to 2015 estimates by the United Nations, 17.8 million children worldwide have been orphaned by the epidemic – losing either one or both parents to the disease.

These orphaned children are left to fend for themselves and are often vulnerable to trafficking, addiction and other illicit activities.

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Gift of Life?

Those afflicted by HIV-AIDS are forced to shell out roughly Rs 3,500-4,500 per month for medication, which they are required to take all their lives. While speaking to The Quint, columnist and LGBTQ activist Harish Iyer shed some light on the difficulty of getting treatment in India.

The drugs available are few and tough to come by. There have been protests by NGOs to get better access to the treatment and medication.
Harish Iyer

Mansi Shah, who runs Happy Feet Home, a hospice that looks after terminally ill children, spoke to The Quint about HIV+ parents.

She said that while people can still have babies while being HIV+, there are chances of it passing on as there is no foolproof conception method. The virus will progress much faster in a newborn or a small child as they are more susceptible to the illness. Shah, who also oversees the care of some HIV+ patients who are in their late teens, also stated that some children can lead “normal lives” like their peers.

So, if the chances of living a healthy, disease-free life are slim, is it ethical then to give birth to a child while being HIV+?

I personally feel I would not want to give birth to a child if I were HIV+ as I can not guarantee how long I will live, and my baby will also have to battle a lifetime with the disease.
Mansi Shah

Iyer said an HIV+ person should instead consider adopting. “I think having children in general is unethical,” he stated. “From an ecological, environmental and sociological perspective, having a child is wrong. Why not adopt the many orphans there are instead?”

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