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Love, Alias 'Sexually Transmitted Diseases,' Goes to Court

May 08, 1988|From United Press Intrnational

The sexual revolution has been replaced by a common sense approach that demands an outline of the legal rights and responsibilities of partners--or else.

"The threat of a lawsuit after casual sex is now a reality," said Margaret L. Davis, partner in the law firm of James H. Davis.

"The informal approach is being superseded by frank and specific questioning by both partners," she said. "So much for romance."

In her new book, Davis has given lovers several guidelines about the legal aspects of passing on sexually transmitted diseases.

"As an attorney, I've seen the deep-seated pain and anger my clients have experienced as a result of false promises made by a sexual partner. The lovers of these victims may not have intended to hurt anyone, but they were careless and that carelessness cost their partner a great deal," Davis said.

Davis, in consultation with Dr. Robert S. Scott, is the author of "Lovers, Doctors & the Law," subtitled, "Your Legal Rights & Responsibilities in Today's Sex-Health Crisis" (Harper & Row, $16.95). It deals with sexually transmitted diseases and the lies that help spread them.

In one part of the book, Davis tells the story of Dick and Jane. Actually, this time it's "Jane vs. Dick: a lawsuit after romance." Said Davis, "Dick and Jane grew up and fell in love." It goes downhill from here.

Various Scenarios

In one scenario, Dick and Jane have been lovers for some time. Then one day, Dick develops a lesion. A doctor tells him it is genital herpes and he did not get it from Jane.

But the real problem lies ahead.

Dick is not sure how to confront the situation, much less Jane. So he says nothing. He uses a condom during sex, and abstains entirely until he thinks he is no longer contagious. He miscalculates. Jane gets herpes.

Jane goes to court. A judge rules in her favor because Dick had a legal responsibility to talk things over with Jane.

The second scenario envisions a man who is a little less smart than the first.

He gets a lesion. He says nothing. It goes away.

Eventually, he and Jane wind up in court. "It can be argued that Dick should have known better," said Davis.

Dick loses again.

Scenario three: Dick tells Jane. They go to bed. Jane gets herpes. "Dick has a good defense," Davis said.

"Women came to me as an attorney and asked me what their rights are. When I researched the issue, I found out that many of the laws have been on the books since the 19th Century, when syphilis was incurable."

Personal-Injury Lawyer

Davis is a partner in an active personal-injury practice in mid-Wilshire. She has handled "several" cases involving sexually transmitted diseases.

She also has given the issue a lot of thought, devising a "legal checklist for lovers."

Some of the important items Davis suggests should be discussed with one's partner:

--The last time each of you had a medical checkup.

--The results of that checkup. If tests showed you have a sexually transmitted disease, your legal duty can be met with a few simple words, for example, "I have herpes."

--Whether either you have had any symptoms in the recent past to indicate you might have a disease.

--Whether previous lovers exhibited any of those symptoms.

--Any medical condition, and whether it has been treated and cured. If it is recurrent or chronic, exchange dates of occurrences.

--Whether either of you is, or was, an intravenous drug user. IV drug users are much more likely than members of the general population to have been infected with AIDS.

--Whether either of you had a blood transfusion previous to 1985, when effective screening measures for the AIDS virus were perfected.

"Finally," said Davis, "consider a joint visit to the doctor."

Comparison of Histories

She admonishes lovers to compare sexual histories thoroughly. She has another checklist:

--Discuss your recent sexual partners.

--Are either of you bisexual?

--Were any partners in a high-risk category?

--Share all your sexual secrets.

--Keep such information in strictest confidence.

--Don't let passion rule out over common sense.

--Don't take risks under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

--Be practical. Condoms and spermicide are effective against some sexually transmitted diseases in many situations.

--Make a physical examination part of foreplay.

"Each day, 38,000 people will be infected for the first time with a sexually transmitted disease," Davis said, "and experts estimate that more than half of these infections are due to the misrepresentation of a sexual partner."

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