JUDGE ORDERS MOTHER
TO TEST BABY FOR HIV
The Times (London) 4 Sept. 1999
A high court judge yesterday ordered the four-month-old
daughter of an HIV-positive mother to be tested for the virus,
despite opposition from both the child's parents.
Mr Justice Wilson said that he made his landmark decision in
favour of the child's right to life, causing widespread implications
for parents' ability to choose treatment for their children.
The evidence showing an HIV test was in the interests of the
baby was overwhelming compared with the views of the parents,
the judge said in his 90-minute judgment.
The parents are alternative health practitioners who are
"vehemently opposed" to the test as they do not believe HIV
causes AIDS, and are convinced that the conventional medical
treatment of the virus does more harm than good.
"This case is not about the rights of the parents, and if, as the
father has suggested, he regards the rights of a tiny baby to be
subsumed within the rights of the parents, he is wrong," Mr
Justice Wilson said.
It was the mother's "tragic plight to be infected with this virus in a
way that can attract no moral blame," he said. "But she, and the
father who loves her, cling to their theories with the intensity of
the shipwrecked mariner who clings to the plank of wood."
The parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were
considering appealing, their solicitor, Alison Burt, said. Only the
baby's father was present to hear the judgment.
The decision raises serious questions as to how social workers
from Camden Borough Council, who brought the case under the
1989 Children Act, will enforce the girl's medical treatment if the
parents oppose it.
Mr Justice Wilson said that if the baby tested positive for the
virus, the courts might order that she begin a course of drug
therapy designed to minimise the impact of the virus.
"The parents may reject my advice, but they do so in ignorance
of the facts. They cling to the hope that their baby is not
infected," he said.
The judge noted that both parents were devoted to the baby and
that they were "knowledgable and concerned" about HIV. But, he
said, the birth of the baby went against every piece of medical
advice on protecting children against HIV. The mother, 33, had
known that doctors advised HIV-positive pregnant women to
take appropriate medication, to deliver via Caesarian section, and
not to breast-feed. But she had sought out a sympathetic midwife
and delivered the baby at her north London home.
It only weeks after the birth that the alarm was raised when a GP
carrying out a routine check-up read the mother's notes and
found she was HIV-positive. The mother had been breast-feeding
the child ever since the birth, which doubled the risk of her
passing the virus to her child. The father, 36, has tested negative.
The British Medical Association said that it backed the ruling, as
did the Terrence Higgins Trust, a leading AIDS charity, because
of the advances made in the treatment of HIV.
But the National AIDS Trust said it was "extremely regrettable"
that court intervention was thought necessary.
The idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, championed by a
small but vocal minority, appeals to conspiracy theorists but has
never been accepted by most scientists (Nigel Hawkes writes).
Its originator, Peter Duesberg of the University of California at
Berkeley, blamed the AIDS epidemic on the use of recreational
drugs by homosexuals, and said that many of the symptoms of
the disease were side-effects of the drugs used to treat it.
But in fact there is plenty of evidence linking HIV to AIDS. People
with depressed immune systems, but without evidence of HIV
infection, do not develop AIDS, as long-term studies have shown,
while those with HIV do.