Parents claim daughter's health should be their responsibility

By Vikram Dodd

The Guardian (London) 24 Aug. 1999

A four-month-old baby girl, whose mother is HIV positive, may be tested for the potentially fatal virus against the wishes of her parents after a council this week goes to the high court.

The baby's parents, who believe in the benefits of alternative medicine, have refused to have their child tested, saying she is healthy and control over her health care should be left to them.

The ethics of the emotive case, believed to be the first of its kind, has split charities working with HIV patients.

Camden council, in north London, will seek a ruling this Thursday from the high court. Its action is being brought under the 1989 children act.

The parents, who can not be named so as to protect their daughter's identity, fear their child will be stigmatised by a positive test. They say they will seek treatment only if their baby becomes ill.

Lawyers for Camden are expected to argue that the test is in the child's best interests and that HIV is a deadly condition which if untreated could kill. It is believed social workers think that the virus, which can lead to Aids, could be transmitted from the HIVpositive mother to her baby via breastfeeding.

The child's father is an alternative health care practitioner who has tested negative for the virus. The mother, who tested positive in 1990, has shunned mainstream medication and claims HIV has not affected her health through her preference for alternative medicine. She believes scientists are mistaken in seeing HIV as the sole cause of Aids.

The father said: 'This is yet another example of the state trying to control every aspect of family life. Making the decision to have a child was not something that we took lightly. This baby is loved and cared for beyond reproach. The council is acting in both ignorance and fear.'

The father has paid for medical experts to testify at the hearing. The couple's GP is alleged to have urged the couple to have their baby tested. But even after talking to paediatricians from Great Ormond Street hospital, the parents decided to follow their beliefs.

The father told the Daily Mail: 'We have never wanted to shout about what we believe in. All we wanted to do was get on with our lives and enjoy our time together as a family.

'We are loving parents who want the best for our child. We have consented to all of the normal monitoring and checkups as all responsible parents do.

'But we do not believe anyone has a right to force our child to undergo an HIV test.'

If the court orders a test which then proves positive, the baby is likely to be treated by a combination of highly toxic drugs. They could include AZT, along with recently developed protease inhibitors which have helped cut the death rate among HIV sufferers by threequarters since 1997.

Some research suggests that AZT can prevent transmission of the virus during pregnancy.

The high court's ruling could have implications for the government's announcement a fortnight ago that all pregnant woman should have HIV tests.

In Britain an HIV test can usually only be legally administered if the patient gives informed consent.

But opinion among groups at at the forefront of helping HIVpositive people was last night split.

Tim Pickstone, of the George House Trust which works with HIV positive people in the northwest, condemned the court action.

Policy officer Tim Pickstone, said: 'Nobody should be forced into taking an HIV test, not even a child. There are an enormous number of assumptions behind this case.

'We oppose a forcible test, because it is not possible to say that having an HIV test is better than not having an HIV test. The parents views should be respected.'

But Gavin Hart of the National Aids Trust, supported a review by the high court of the best interests of the child: 'It is preferable for parents and social workers to come to a consensus of what is best. But where that proves impossible, we would support a local authority going to court.

'The best interests of the child are paramount. There are great advantages in knowing your HIV status given the medical advances.'

A spokesman for Camden council refused to comment.