FROM the outset of the epidemic of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), there has been continuing concern about a demonstrated personal, professional, and societal lack of compassion toward AIDS patients. Compassion, defined as a "deep feeling for and understanding of misery or suffering and the concomitant desire to promote its alleviation,"1 is assumed in the care of the sick and is a basic tenet of our profession. Yet, lack of compassion toward AIDS patients and persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) remains. Why is this so? Why is AIDS different from other illnesses? I believe there are three principal reasons.
First, there is a continuing fear of transmission through routes that do not exist or are extremely infrequent sources of infection. This fear is prodded by reports in the media and is a consequence of insufficient educational efforts and confusion about the facts. It stems from a deep