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Feeling Bain pain

Published:Thursday | May 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

T
he recent firing of Professor Brendan Bain is painful. Bain, one of the brightest products of the University of the West Indies fulfilled his promise and became one of the pioneers in clinical infectious practice, and is a leading medical authority on the HIV epidemic in the English, French and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. For the last 31 years, he has provided clinical care to men and women living with HIV and AIDS, regardless of their sexual practices. This pioneer was fired based on his expert testimony given in a court and, apparently, decision-makers have not read and/or understood what an expert testimony is and what he said.

Bain, in giving expert witness, is indebted to the court and not those who are contending. In other words, the expert testimony would be the same whether a terrorist group or atheist organisation had asked him to give it.

According to the Belize Criminal Code, "Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person ... shall be liable to imprisonment for 10 years." Additionally, under the Immigration Act, "... [T]he following persons are prohibited immigrants - ... (e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour....".

Because Bain gave an expert witness statement does not mean that he believes that persons who engage in homosexual practices should not enter Belize or that he is against the decriminalisation of homosexual practices.

In any case, Jamaica's National AIDS Committee, which honoured Bain for visionary leadership in improving the quality of lives for persons living with or affected by AIDS, and for his work and outstanding leadership in response to HIV/AIDS in the academic sector, claims that the organisation has no problem with the content of his expert testimony. Furthermore, in his testimony he did not state that he supported either side.

Duty to discourage

What is wrong with this statement? "As a physician and public health practitioner, one of my responsibilities is to assess behaviours for their impact on heath and well-being. When something is beneficial, such as exercise, good nutrition, or adequate sleep, it is my duty to recommend it. Likewise, when something is harmful, such as smoking, overeating, alcohol or drug abuse, and unsafe sexual behaviour, it is my duty to discourage it."

In addition, he said, that: "This report shows the relative risk of contracting HIV is significantly higher among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Belize than in the general population. This is also true in several other countries for which data are available, including countries that have repealed the law that criminalises anal sex and countries where the law still applies."

What the goodly professor is stating is that based on the data, there is no simple 'cause and effect' between criminalising or decriminalising the practice of men having sex with men and reduction of HIV infections among them. Most scholars would warn against simplistic cause and effect.

Bain added: "Some public health practitioners and agencies have hypothesised that decriminalising the practice of anal intercourse among consenting adults would lead to a reduction in the incidence rate of HIV infections among MSM. To date, published data have not substantiated this hypothesis". If this is false then someone should publish the data on all the countries which have decriminalised homosexual practices and show that HIV infections have decreased and so discredit Bain as a scholar.

Any reading of the definition of a conflict of interest would reveal that an expert testimony by its nature, when truthfully executed, cannot be a conflict of interest. Speaking the truth cannot lead to a conflict of interest.

If the decision makers had painstakingly examined the testimony and considered everyone's interest in the pseudo-conflict, there certainly would have been less pain for Bain. It is clear that unless there are other factors, he should not have been fired based on his expert testimony to a court.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.