Court-ordered drug treatment turns a family of three into fugitives

By Marnie Ko

The Report Newsmagazine 5 June 2000

One year ago Mother's Day, social workers seized Sophie Brassard's two sons after the Montreal single mom rejected using AIDS drugs to treat the elder child's bronchitis. A judge then ordered Ms. Brassard's parents to administer anti-viral AIDS "cocktails" to their grandchildren, Xavier, 3, and Ismael, 8, or he'd place them in foster care. After months of battling the courts for return of her children, the 37-year-old Ms. Brassard could stand what she calls the "injustice" no longer. "My sons were dying on the drugs," says Ms. Brassard. "I knew I was never going to get them back." On her weekly visitation two days before this past Mother's Day, Ms. Brassard took her children and fled.

Ms. Brassard's is one of 16 similar cases being fought across North America. She has received financial and legal help from the International Coalition for Medical Justice (ICMJ), a Virginia-based, non-profit organization funded in part by a U.S. venture capitalist. Deane Collier, the ICMJ's executive director, says the Brassard case demonstrates how the AIDS epidemic has become a multibillion-dollar, highly politicized industry, in which the medical establishment and the courts overrule the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children. "In alarming numbers, the state is forcing anti-viral cocktails on children that may do more harm than good," warns Mrs. Collier.

Such concerns led Ms. Brassard to reject conventional drug treatment for her sons. Ms. Brassard has carried the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for 15 years, yet she says she has remained in good health without AIDS drugs. She passed the virus to both her sons, and has been battling social workers trying to impose conventional AIDS treatment ever since. Yet even without such treatment, neither has developed AIDS and both were healthy, save Ismael's bronchitis, before the court-ordered AIDS cocktails.

Although public health officials and the mainstream news media universally credit the current suite of AIDS drugs with slowing the disease's ravages in HIV-positive patients, the theoretical underpinnings of conventional treatment are under fierce attack. At least 2,000 scientists, including Kary Mullis, winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, University of California-Berkeley scientist David Rasnick, and Peter Duesberg, a Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology, argue HIV by itself is harmless. Dr. Duesberg believes AIDS is caused by recreational drug use, risky gay lifestyles and, most arrestingly, by the drugs commonly prescribed to HIV- positive people--AZT and 3TC. A "battery" of drug use by North American male homosexuals is well-reported in the scientific literature and, he notes, "causes AIDS-defining diseases, regardless of the presence of HIV." Few dispute that the anti-viral drugs bring horrible side effects.

But Dr. Rasnick goes much farther, saying AIDS cocktails are DNA chain terminators that "kill anything living." Taken as prescribed, he says bluntly, these drugs are a death sentence for women and children. AZT, Dr. Rasnick points out, was developed in the 1960s to treat cancer, but was found too toxic for human use.

David Crowe, a Calgary businessman and president of the Alberta Reapprais- ing AIDS Society, came to Ms. Brassard's assistance early last year. " Women like Sophie are caught," he says. Medical authorities dispense conventional AIDS treatment without fully warning people of its risks. If anyone resists, Mr. Crowe says, they are hauled into court, where "the legal system asks medical authorities what the best treatment is, without stopping to consider why they are so aggressive about it." At Ms. Brassard's custody hearing in January, the judge allowed that Ms. Brassard's decision to refuse AIDS cocktails for her children did not make her an unfit mother, and that dissenting medical opinions concerning HIV treatments were appropriate to consider. Yet despite this finding, plus the expert testimony of Dr. Rasnick and two other scientists, the judge refused to return the children, citing Ms. Brassard's use of homeopathic and alternative therapies. He awarded medical custody to Quebec's Youth Protective Services, but allowed the sons to remain with their grand- parents provided they follow the directions of the social workers to continue conventional treatment.

Since last fall, Ms. Brassard's parents had been giving Xavier and Ismael a three-drug AIDS cocktail. Both children complained of constant nausea, headaches and diarrhoea. "It was traumatic. They refused to take the drugs and had to be force-fed," says Ms. Brassard. In February, Ismael suffered more serious side effects and had to be hospitalized. Doctors diagnosed kidney problems. Although the judge had agreed to review the case, Ms. Brassard says social workers indicated to her their intent to continue drug therapy and maintain control over the boys regardless. One of Ms. Brassard's supporters says this left her with no choice. She is currently in hiding outside Quebec. She says she regrets that she placed her "faith in the Canadian legal system and did not run sooner," although she tried to do so once last year and was apprehended. Xavier and Ismael, she says, are off the AIDS drugs and doing better. She vows she will never return to Quebec.

Marnie Ko is editor of Nurturing Magazine,