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Rhetoric. Should the State Know Your HIV Status? by Alfieri

Introduction / Thesis

In her article “Should the State Know Your HIV Status?”, Rosemarie Gionta Alfieri sets a case against the proposals to make the practice of HIV testing mandatory. While doing it, she mainly utilizes the rhetorical devices of appeal to Pathos and Ethos, which is quite explainable, given author’s obvious association with neo-Liberal agenda (author refers to drug addicts that pose danger to society as “needle sharing partners”!). At the same time, Alfieri’s article contains a few appeals to Logos, although the closer analysis reveals them as being purely formal. This paper is aimed at identifying all three elements of rhetorical argumentation, present in the article, and also at exposing them as such that are being affected by author’s rather irrational perception of surrounding socio-political reality.

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Author’s main logical argument can be formulated as follows: “Since no effective cure for AIDS has been found yet, there is no need for the practice of HIV testing to become mandatory”: “Despite media coverage celebrating the efficacy of “cocktail drug” treatments and potential vaccines, there remains no cure for AIDS” (Alfieri 74). Thus, author implies that mandatory HIV testing simply does not make any moral sense. This argument, however, can only be referred to as moderately sensible, since it does not consider the absolutely realistic possibility for the cure for

AIIDS to be found in very near future (in all probability, such cure already exists, with authorities simply waiting for as many “needle sharing partners” as possible to pass away, before making a public announcement, so that this drug would not be wasted on those who represent the waste of humanity). Also, even though Alfiery does not deny the fact that mandatory HIV testing significantly reduces the chances for HIV virus to be passed to newly born children, she suggests that “underpowered” women would not be able to afford buying Zidovudine (drug used in treatment of AIDS), if tested HIV positive: “The cost of obtaining drug – as much as $800 to $1000 per pregnancy – is too high for many of the women who are infected” (Alfieri 74). However, the fallacious essence of this statement is just too obvious not to be noticed – Alfieri simply assumes that the cost of $1000 for a drug is too high, while seriously believing that such her assumption is being universally objective. Apparently, she is quite incapable of understanding a simple fact that, when it comes to dealing with the matters of life and death, no monetary cost can be too high. Moreover, we have a good reason to believe that, given Government’s willingness to pay for “underpowered” women’s food (food stamps), it would also be willing to pay for their medicine.


Alfieri’s article contains many examples of appeal to Ethos – namely, her referrals to opinions of people, who she believes are being perceived by general public as “figures of authority”. This is the reason she makes a point of deciphering the abbreviated names of organizations, on which behalf these “authority figures” speak: GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), NBWHP (National Black Women’s Health Project), CVPS (Center for Women Policy Studies) etc. Obviously enough, Alfieri expects that the “progressive” sounding of these organizations’ names should prompt readers to accept the opinions of quoted “experts” as such that cannot really be argued with. In order to strengthen article’s appeal to Ethos, Alfieri seems to be even willing to adopt a posture of “defender of civil freedoms”, by referring to HIV infected people’s privilege to maintain their “existential anonymity”, as their essential civil right, while rightly expecting readers to side with her, in this respect, simply because the majority of Americans still believe in the ideals of democracy. However, she does a poor job of this, because raging neo-Liberal, such as herself, can hardly be associated with promotion of civil liberties. It is only when the rights of gays, racial minorities, and animals are being violated; that people like Alfieri scream bloody murder. However, when it comes to discussion of people’s right to own guns or to freely express their political opinions, neo-Liberals begin to sing an entirely different song. Therefore, in this particular article, Alfieri’s appeal to Ethos appears to be essentially superficial.


The Pathos in Alfieri’s article seems to be the strongest element out of Greek Triangle of Rhetoric. As we have mentioned earlier, this simply could not be otherwise – “Should the State Know Your HIV Status?” is the intellectual product of neo-Liberal mentality, therefore, author mainly relied on utilization of emotional appeal, during the course of writing it. She keeps going on and on about how it is namely women who suffer from being infected with HIV the most, about how doctors tend to be “prejudicious” towards “underpowered” women and about how these women might suffer from being forced to break up with their “needle sharing partners”: “The largest-growing segment of HIV and AIDS cases is minority women, especially poorer women, who cannot afford to be sick” (Alfieri 74). Therefore, forcing them to undergo HIV testing, would be nothing short of racial profiling – the term that hawks of political correctness, such as Alfieri, simply cannot stand. The next quote reveal the fact that author is not being concerned about the possible violation of “underpowered” women’s civil rights, as much as she is being concerned about the fact that mandating HIV testing across America, would serve as another proof as to the utter harmfulness of doctrine of “multiculturalism”, which is now being showed up citizens’ throats, often despite their will: “In the United States, black and Hispanic women, particularly those at lower income levels, are at the highest risk for AIDS. According to the CDC, in 1996 they composed 78 percent of all.

AIDS cases among U.S. women” (Alfieri 73). Thus, article’s Pathos can be summarized in one word – “racism”. Apparently, for Alfieri the issue of racism is like a skin rash – the more it is being scratched, the more it itches. This, of course, significantly undermines the validity of her emotional statements.


Thus, we can conclude that article’s appeals to all three: Logos, Ethos and Pathos, suffer from the lack of conceptual soundness. Therefore, we cannot agree with the initial commentary to the article, which states: “By the end of the article, the reader who accepts Alfieri’s message will feel the familiar X-Files paranoia of life in the post-modern age”. The fact that author quotes the spokesmen for Gay Men’s Health Crisis as the credible source of information alone, prevents readers from seriously considering the points made in “Should the State Know Your HIV Status?”. Author had clearly exposed her affiliation with left-wing political agenda, which is why even her appeals to Pathos are being deprived of their intellectual integrity. Despite the fact that Alfieri had applied a great deal of effort into trying to present herself as an unengaged observer, while discussing the issue of HIV testing, her article clearly contains a political undertones, which can only have one meaning – Alfieri is not very skilled in application of methods of rhetorical persuasion.

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Hyer, Maren “The Mercury Reader”. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005.

Savage, Michael “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions”. NY: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

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StudyCorgi. "Rhetoric. Should the State Know Your HIV Status? by Alfieri." November 2, 2021.


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