Legal Loophole Forces 
AIDS Meds on Moms


Dear Christine, 
When I was vacationing in Canada, I saw an article in a Canadian health magazine about an HIV-positive mother in Montreal who lost custody of her two children because she chose natural therapies over AIDS drugs. The article said the mother had been positive without problems for 14 years and that her kids were perfectly healthy, too. 

How can governments force healthy people to take drugs? Can this happen here in the U.S.? I recently learned that some states here have laws that make HIV tests mandatory for pregnant women and newborn children. Are there also laws compelling HIV-positive mothers and their children to take AIDS drugs? Do you know of cases like this? 
Concerned Mom from Orange County 

Dear Mom, 
There are no laws in America or Canada mandating that HIV-positive mothers or their children take AIDS drugs. Official guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other government health agencies in this country cite only recommendations regarding pharmaceutical treatment for HIV-positive diagnosed persons. Some specifically note that drug treatment is optional even for expectant mothers who test positive. 

The fact that treatment with AIDS drugs is a recommendation rather than a mandate does not prevent zealous AIDS doctors from reporting HIV-positive mothers who make alternative choices, to public health officials, or to social services agencies who in turn may charge these women with parental neglect or intent to harm. Family courts may then determine that a positive mother or expectant mother who fails to provide her child with standard accepted medical care — no matter what the circumstance or supporting evidence for the mother’s decision — is guilty of negligence and/or of placing the child in harm’s way. 

In one recent case, a healthy HIV- positive expectant mother with no risk factors to explain her diagnosis (monogamously married for more than a decade, husband and 10 year-old daughter tested HIV negative) decided to forgo treatment with AIDS drugs while pregnant with her second child. Within hours of giving birth to a healthy baby boy, she was visited by an infectious disease specialist who ordered her to refrain from breastfeeding and to give her son AZT, a toxic chemotherapy originally created for cancer treatment. When the mother questioned the doctor’s orders, she was reported to state authorities who took legal custody of her son that same day. Even after it was discovered that the baby tested HIV negative, the mother was forced to give her child a six-week course of AZT. Through my work with Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, I help expectant mothers who test HIV positive find midwives, birthing clinics and obstetricians who will honor their informed choices to decline toxic drug treatments during pregnancy. I also assist mothers facing custody battles over their decisions to forgo AIDS pharmaceuticals. I would appreciate hearing from any readers who know midwives, obstetricians and pediatricians who would allow mothers to make informed choices with regard to AIDS treatment drugs. 
Thanks for writing, 

HIV-Positive Baby Taken by Police 

Dear Christine, 
A friend forwarded me an e-mail she got from you last month about a family that lost custody of their little boy because they asked for a second opinion about AIDS drugs. In the message, you asked for donations toward a legal fund for this family. Did that case go to court? Does the family still need help? 
Thanks for doing what you do. 
Stacey Bowen 

Dear Stacey, 
The e-mail message your friend sent you referred to the case of Baby Garfield, an 18 month-old boy from New York who was caught up in the system of mandatory newborn HIV screening recently initiated in that state. 

After allegedly testing positive at birth (the actual test was missing from his medical records) and following a series of inconsistent lab work and other questionable tests and recommendations, his mother sought a second opinion about the AIDS drug treatments prescribed for her healthy son. 

A few days later, under orders from the department of social services, Baby Garfield was taken from his home by seven police officers. He was placed in foster care and put on an aggressive regimen of mandatory medication. His mother was allowed to see her child only one hour a week while awaiting a hearing to establish long-term arrangements for his custody. 

When his family found Alive & Well, Garfield had been in a foster home for more than a month and the custody hearing was just a few weeks away. 

In record time, helped by donations and good wishes from people like your friend, we pulled together a legal defense team led by Alive & Well’s pro bono attorney Denis Sheils of Philadelphia, PA. Although Denis is one of the best and busiest attorneys in the country, he gave his time — including weekends — to the effort to return Baby Garfield to his home. Alma Weisberg, of the non-profit Help A Mother, Save A Child, and Dr. Jane Goldberg also made vital contributions to the effort to bring Baby Garfield home.

 I am happy to say that the day after the hearing, Garfield was back in his mother’s arms. The victory was resounding as the state has decided not to appeal the judge’s decision. Outside the courtroom (after a round of celebratory hugs and tears of relief) I gave Baby Garfield’s mother the stack of e-mail messages of support we received at Alive & Well in response to her case. The good wishes and promises of donations came from across the country and as far away as Australia, Canada, England, and Iceland. 

Additionally, a businessman from San Francisco sent a generous gift that he designated to be used a legal defense fund for future cases. Since he also committed to matching any donations sent to this new fund, please let us know if you’re in a giving mood! 
Take care, 

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