Court case is backed by fringe U.S. group that claims AIDS virus is harmless

By Aaron Derfel

The Gazette 19 Aug. 1999

A Montreal woman battling youth-protection authorities over custody of her two HIV-infected sons is being supported by a fringe group in the U.S. that claims the AIDS virus is perfectly harmless.

Sophie Brassard, 37, has gone to court to prevent doctors at Ste. Justine Hospital from giving HIV drugs to her 7-year-old son. The boy was admitted to the hospital almost two weeks ago suffering from pneumonia.

Doctors decided to delay the treatment rather than risk a protracted legal fight in Quebec Superior Court. Brassard goes back to court Oct. 25 to try to win back custody of her children.

"I'm living through hell," she said yesterday.

Brassard, who tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus more than a decade ago, said she's worried that HIV drugs would cause her son more harm than good.

"It's been my personal experience that you don't need any of these drugs," she said. "I have made an informed decision that these drugs are highly toxic and experimental, and my kids should not be treated as guinea pigs."

Opposed to Antibiotics

Brassard is also opposed to antibiotics, claiming they weaken the body's immune system - despite overwhelming medical evidence that such drugs can cure infection when properly used.

In preparation for her court injunction, Brassard sought the advice of the International Coalition for Medical Justice, a legal-defence group based near Washington, D.C.

The organization believes in a vast medical conspiracy involving AIDS. Its members have unsuccessfully defended an HIV-infected Oregon woman who sought the right in court to breast-feed her baby boy.

Although the group invokes civil liberties and the right of parents to decide on the medical treatment of their children, its driving force is the denial of AIDS as an epidemic.

David Rasnick, an outspoken member of the group, signed an affidavit supporting Brassard's case. In a lengthy telephone interview yesterday from San Francisco, Rasnick talked about a political ploy by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to turn AIDS into a public-health priority.

"There is no evidence at all in the scientific literature that shows that AIDS is a contagious disease, that it is sexually transmitted and that it's caused by HIV," said Rasnick, who has a PhD in chemistry.

"AIDS in the U.S. and Europe is a clinical manifestation of the (recreational) drug epidemic."

But the world's foremost expert on pediatric AIDS, Dr. Arthur Ammann, called Rasnick's arguments utter nonsense and dangerously misleading. Ammann has tracked AIDS since the early 1980s and was the first scientist to identify the disease in children and to show how it can be contracted through blood transfusions.

'HIV is cause of AIDS'

He said Rasnick has never conducted an AIDS study and bases his arguments on outdated research.

"The scientific community is 99.9 per cent in agreement that HIV is the cause of AIDS," said the San Francisco epidemiologist, who is organizing an international conference on pediatric AIDS in Montreal early next month.

Ammann accused Rasnick and his colleagues of preying on vulnerable people with little scientific knowledge. He said the group can be very persuasive because it often mixes true statements with false ones while ignoring the weight of scientific evidence.

While some scientists hotly debated AIDS in the early 1980s before HIV was discovered, the focus today is on developing new, less-toxic AIDS drugs and a vaccine.

At Ste. Justine Hospital, authorities were tight-lipped. "It's a delicate situation," spokesman Nicole Saint-Pierre said. "We cannot divulge any information."

Brassard, who lives downtown, said she lost custody of her boys last month. "My father called child-protection services, saying my child had a fever," she said.

Officials at the Centre Jeunesse de Montreal refused to comment, citing the Youth Protection Act.