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Thousands purposefully seek AIDS each year, SF doctor says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Thousands of people knowingly infect themselves with the HIV virus each year, according to Rolling Stone magazine — a practice commonly known as “bug chasing” and cited by those who participate in it as the ultimate form of erotic fulfillment.

Bug chasing is most commonly associated with homosexual men, Rolling Stone reports, and is propagated through a vast Internet network of websites and chat rooms where bug chasers can arrange sexual encounters with carriers of AIDS.

This practice serves as a horrific expression of human sinfulness, Southern Baptist bioethicist Ben Mitchell says. However, believers ought not to be so shocked by bug chasing that they fail to minister to those ensnared in its fearsome spiral of death, says Tim Wilkins, founder/director of Cross Ministry, a ministry that equips churches to evangelize and disciple homosexuals.

Of the 40,000 new HIV infections each year, as many as 10,000 may be due to bug chasing — a figure that represents a full 25 percent of all HIV cases, Bob Cabaj, a San Francisco official, said in the Feb. 6 edition of Rolling Stone.

Cabaj, director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County and past president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, told Rolling Stone that many AIDS activists downplay bug chasing because of the negative images it presents of homosexual men. “It’s an active cover-up, because they [AIDS activists] know about it,” Cabaj said. “They’re in denial of this issue. This is a difficult issue that dredges up some images about gay men that they don’t want to have to deal with. They don’t want to shine a light on this topic because they don’t want people to even know that this behavior exists.”

Cabaj later denied his estimate that 25 percent of all HIV infections result from bug chasing. But he does maintain that the number of deliberate infections each year are “probably more than people wanted to think,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported Jan. 27.

Like many sexual fetishes and extreme behaviors, bug chasing probably could not exist without the Internet, where certain websites are known for connecting those seeking the HIV virus with carriers. According to Rolling Stone, one popular bug chasing site claims 48,000 registered users, up from 28,000 a year earlier.

A spokeswoman for Yahoo! confirmed to Rolling Stone that the company shuts down such sites when it learns they are promoting HIV infection, but Yahoo! simply cannot go looking for all of the bug chasers in its thousands of discussion groups.

So why would anyone knowingly infect himself with a fatal disease?

One homosexual told Rolling Stone it’s all about the freedom associated with having HIV. Once you have the most deadly disease on the market, he said, you can participate in any sexual activity without worrying about the consequences.

Yet the consequences of such behavior may actually go beyond anything bug chasers ever imagined, warns Ben Mitchell, bioethics consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Bug chasing is a painfully obvious expression of the downward spiral of sin,” Mitchell said. “In Romans 1, [the apostle] Paul teaches that when God gives someone over to their own sinful desires, behaviors as depraved as bug chasing first become thinkable, then practiced, and finally accepted with perverse glee.”

Bug chasing expresses such dangerous self-loathing and nihilism that it demands a response, Mitchell said.

Kenneth Magnuson, associate professor of Christian ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed, saying that even if the HIV infection is consensual, it poses a public health risk that demands legal action.

For those transmitting HIV, “even if it is a consensual behavior, you have such a public health risk that there would have to be a response,” Magnuson said.

“You would have to have a response that would significantly penalize such behavior…. And if it is not clearly stated already, it ought to be stated as an illegal behavior to be playing with public health risks like that.”

Mitchell said public policy should require that anyone who participates in high-risk behavior, including bug chasing, be able to demonstrate that he has personal medical insurance coverage so that the public will not incur inflated healthcare costs associated with the treatment of intentionally contracted HIV.

“The public should not have to foot the medical bills for those who ride motorcycles without helmets, those who play extreme sports, or those who are trying intentionally to contract HIV/AIDS,” Mitchell said.

“Yet,” he continued, “because HIV/AIDS is associated primarily with homosexual behavior, it’s unlikely that bug chasing will be treated as a form of mental illness. Homosexuality is protected by our sexually promiscuous and relativistic culture.”

Public policy solutions, however, are not the item most pressing on Doug Hitzel’s agenda. Hitzel, a young man who contracted HIV though bug chasing nearly a year ago, told Rolling Stone that his former lifestyle now brings feelings of guilt and pain.

“Whenever I have to deal with things like medication, days when I’m really down,” Hitzel says, “I have to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You did this. Are you happy now? That’s the one line that goes through my head: ‘Are you happy now?'”

Mitchell, Magnuson and Wilkins all agree that while the public policy response to bug chasing is important, cases like Hitzel’s serve as a reminder that this phenomenon ultimately demands a spiritual solution.

For Wilkins, bug chasing expresses a deep void within the homosexual men who practice it. “I am aware that there is a horrible void within every person, and for men who deal with same-sex attraction there is that void that only Christ can fill. And the craving to make ourselves whole outside of God’s Word and Jesus Christ leads us to do all kinds of things,” he said.

Bug chasers desperately need the salvation offered in Jesus Christ, Wilkins said. But he fears that Christians may be so horrified by the behavior that they will fail to approach those seeking HIV in order to share Christ with them.

“My fear is that the person who reads about this will automatically be so horrified that they will throw up their hands when, in actuality, we need to roll up our sleeves,” Wilkins said. “AIDS and HIV, as horrible as they are, there are worse things. And that which is far worse is dying without Jesus Christ. And so I think an appropriate Christian response is to not become horrified by the tragedy and deformity of sin so that it immobilizes or paralyzes us.

“A lot of people have told me, ‘We don’t deal with that issue of homosexuality. It’s a dirty subject.’ And I lovingly tell people, ‘I’m not aware of a clean sin,'” Wilkins said. “I’m reminded that God the Father got his hands dirty when he created Adam out of the dust of the ground. Jesus Christ got his hands dirty when … he washed the dust, dirt and sewage off the disciples’ feet. Ministry is dirty, but the dividends are out of this world.”

Wilkins concluded, “The fact is, no one is beyond the grasp of Jesus Christ’s nail-scarred hand.”