MOTHER FIGHTS TO BLOCK
SON'S HIV DRUG THERAPY
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
"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
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
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.
"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."