By Ingrid Peritz

The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 18 Aug. 1999

Montreal -- A Montreal woman has gone to court to prevent doctors from giving her young son anti-HIV drugs, in a case that pits parents' rights against those of medical authorities.

Sophie Brassard, 37, applied to the Quebec Superior Court last week to stop doctors at Montreal's Ste. Justine Hospital from administering the powerful drugs to her HIV-positive seven-year-old son, who was admitted this month with pneumonia.

The pneumonia had become resistant to antibiotics and the boy was left fighting that infection as well as the HIV virus that causes AIDS. The powerful combination of drugs is used to repress the HIV virus and boost the immune system.

But Ms. Brassard, who is also HIV-positive, said in an interview yesterday that she believes the drug cocktail is dangerous and still experimental.

"My child isn't a guinea pig. What they're doing is inhuman. I wouldn't pollute my own body with that stuff," she said.

The court did not grant the injunction because the hospital agreed to delay treatment pending a custody hearing involving the boy this fall. However, Ms. Brassard intends to continue her battle.

She has another son, aged 3, who, like his brother, was born with HIV.

The dispute underscores a growing debate over parents' rights to block treatment of potentially life-threatening illnesses afflicting their children.

Earlier this year, Tyrell Dueck, a 13-year-old Saskatchewan boy, ignited an ethical furor after his fundamentalist-Christian parents refused treatment for his bone cancer. The Saskatchewan government took the Duecks to court twice to try to force the boy to undergo conventional treatment, including amputation of his leg. Tyrell died last month.

Ms. Brassard's fight also highlights a growing North American movement that challenges the scientific basis behind HIV infection. Supporters of the movement, who share a distrust of the medical establishment, believe high-priced and potent drugs that attack HIV could be doing more harm than good. And many of them don't believe HIV causes AIDS.

"This is a civil-liberties question," said Deane Collie, executive director of the International Coalition for Medical Justice, a legal defence group based near Washington, D.C., that is funding Ms. Brassard's case.

"The issue is whether or not, as a parent, Ms. Brassard should have the right to participate in taking informed medical decisions for her children, who are not in imminent harm," Ms. Collie said.

Ms. Brassard said her opposition to the anti-HIV drugs is based on her belief that the body must cure itself without drugs. She is also opposed to antibiotics; when her seven-year-old son caught an ear infection, she treated it at home without antibiotics, she said.

"I believe illness is a self-healing process."

Ste. Justine's Hospital confirmed yesterday that Ms. Brassard's son was a patient there, but refused to discuss the case.

Court disputes over HIV treatment have made headlines in the United States. In one case, an HIV-infected Maine woman, Valerie Emerson, succeeded in her court battle to stop administration of the AZT drug to her four-year-old son. A Maine judge ruled in Ms. Emerson's favour last fall, calling her actions "rational and reasoned." The Maine Supreme Court upheld the decision.

In Oregon, state officials won legal custody of a boy in the days following his birth after learning that his mother, Kathleen Tyson, planned to breast-feed him and forgo AZT treatment for him.

Many mothers of HIV-positive children in Canada are involved in disputes similar to the Montreal case that landed in the courts, said Carl Strygg, spokesman for HEAL (Health Education AIDS Liaison) Toronto.

"Many mothers of HIV-positive children have similar concerns," said Mr. Strygg, who is also supporting Ms. Brassard's case. "Women tend to be more skeptical of medicine in general."