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Criminalising contagion: ethical, legal and clinical challenges of prosecuting the spread of disease and sexually transmitted infections
  1. David Gurnham
  1. Correspondence to Dr David Gurnham, School of Law, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK; D.Gurnham{at}

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It gives me great pleasure to introduce this special collection of papers on the theme of the criminalisation of infection and disease. The four articles selected here for Sexually Transmitted Infections, which I have had the privilege of editing in collaboration with Professor Jackie Cassell, form part of a larger response across three BMJ Group journals involving also the Journal of Medical Ethics and Medical Humanities, in which similar themed sections will appear in December. The collection represents part of a wider project that brings together healthcare professionals and academic scholars in the fields of public health, medical law and ethics, criminal law and criminal justice, for a series of seminars currently ongoing and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, in which readers of this journal are invited to participate.1

Something that the articles collected here may be taken to suggest is that, while the criminalisation of STIs is becoming increasingly accepted on the level of national policy, it is viewed by many critical commentators with concern if not outright rejection. Why is this? Arguably what makes the criminalisation of STIs politically attractive to governments, in the context of HIV/AIDS at least, is that there remains some considerable ignorance about transmissibility and treatability.2 ,3 Questions as to just how risky it is to be exposed to STIs, and who should bear responsibility, must be crucial to the larger issue of whether and how to …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.