While the current political trials of Governor Spitzer may at first appear to have no place in this Blog, a small item in the news, which is being discussed in the Feminist Law Professors Blog, caught my eye as well. Apparantly one of things caught on tape is a conversation with the woman, "Kristen", who met with Client 9--allegedly Gov. Spitzer. The New York Times reports that "After her encounter with Client 9, the prostitute told the booker for the agency that it had gone well, and the booker told her that he, in an apparent reference to Client 9, sometimes asked the women “to do things that, like, you might not think were safe.” (Link here)
While this could mean many things, it most likely means he didn't want to wear a condom. As a result, he exposed Kristen, and any other women he slept with, to the full range of STI's (including HIV and HPV) as well as unwanted pregnancy. In an interesting example of perhaps unintended coordination, another story on the NY Times' front page reports a study that 25% of U.S. teenagers (including 50% of African American teenagers) test positive for sex infections which is leading to the conclusion that treatment of boys (including vaccination against HPV) and men must be part of an effective public health strategy.
I do not believe that prostitution should be legalized. However, if there are situations where it is a transaction between consenting adults, and therefore ethically unobjectionable, there is no information here that indicates this is one of those situations. First, we only assume that Kristen is a U.S. citizen who can voluntarily leave this line of work. This is often untrue of sex workers in the U.S. There are increasing reports of foreign women lured to this country with the promise of jobs and then finding themselves forced to be sex workers. Moreover, the link between prostitution and drug addiction has been shown again and again. Is this a sound foundation for informed consent?
Moreover, whether or not it would ever be ethical to allow a sex worker to consent to exposure to an STI could there ever be informed consent by the spouse, or other partners, of a man who engages in this high risk behavior without her knowledge? (and all arguments hold the same however you would like to shuffle around the genders of the parties involved--there is quite a bit of male prostitution and it carries with it the same stigma of STI's and drug addiction).
Prostitution is a health risk for everyone, especially women, and just as we have ethical limits on the risks any individual can take, whether in the context of a drug trial or a risky surgery, we must consider them when the danger is not just to an individual woman who may or may not have consented but to all women who sleep with people who sleep with sex workers.
So is there a link between Governor Spitzer and women's bioethics? Absolutely there is and to the best of our knowledge, her name is Kristen.