Friday, August 13, 2004

Keyes on AIDS in Africa

If your are here, you have probably seen this quote from Keyes. In the January 11, 2000 GOP debate, Keyes was asked whether the U.S. should spend $300 million of its [at that time] surplus to fight AIDS in Africa, Keyes answered:
You know, I think that one of the things that I'm hearing in this discussion, and it's the premise of your question, I guess, which is typical is that the way you measure compassion is by how much money we're going to throw at some problem, regardless of whether the problem is susceptible to being dealt with with all the money. After all, asking whether we should spend $300 million to cure an incurable disease is kind of an academic point, and you should realize that. Especially when the spread of that disease is rooted in what? Is rooted in a moral crisis. Is rooted in a pattern of behavior that spreads that death because of a kind of licentiousness, not only in Africa, but right here in our own country and around the world. I think that this whole discussion is based on a premise that reveals the corruption of our thought. Money cannot solve every problem. Sometimes we need to look at the moral root of that problem and have the guts to deal with it.
The problems with this answer are numerous: First, the question asked by Tim Russert was not if the money should be spent to "cure" AIDS, but to fight AIDS. Keyes' thinking on AIDS apparently can't picture a scenario where money is spent to prolong life, improve the quality of life of those with AIDS, or even to prevent AIDS. The lack of optimism in calling AIDS "incurable" also troubles me. Other diseases have been thought incurable and proved ultimately proved curable. See, e.g. leprosy. (And in case you don't go to the WebMD link, there's an relevant statement that "[f]or many years, [leprosy] was considered a mysterious disorder associated with some type of curse, and persons with the disease were isolated and ostracized.") But you don't get to "curable" without a little effort. If Keyes had taken either argued that the government should not be involved in healthcare or in healthcare overseas, I could grasped his point. But rather he opted for a morality stance. Even assuming that there is a moral element to the spread of AIDS (and to the extent that means that homosexuality is a choice, I strongly disagree), there are many infected with HIV/AIDS who had no ability to prevent infection. For example, children can receive HIV through their mother; women acquire HIV through rape (pdf) or forced participation in the sex industry. Further, the effect of AIDS is not limited merely to those infected with the disease. It extends to orphans and other family members left behind without an income source--by 2010, Saharan Africa is estimated to be home to 50 million orphaned children. It affects the economies of the countries overwhelmed with the disease. Any morality objection to fighting AIDS is at best oversimplified. I realize that Keyes has said that morality problems lead to economic problems, but I think that raises a question about the definition of morality. If a Keyes-defined Christianity was the law of the land (or at least a state/community), why doesn't it operate on the principles of compassion that Christianity clearly calls for? Compassion that requires caring for the sick and dying, the widows and orphans, and even sinners (as Keyes would chose to define them)? And yes, compassion does occasionally require money. To put it another way, if a church-established religion would result in the supposed "don'ts" of Christianity, why would it also not incorporate the "do's." In another theological query, if under the doctrine of original sin, the sin of Adam and Eve introduced disease into the world, shouldn't Keyes consider all diseases to be morality diseases?