Saturday, March 22, 2008

Do we have an obligation to protect children?

You may have heard of the case of Eliza Jane Scovill. Eliza died at the age of 3 of AIDS related pneumonia. When her mother, Christina Maggiore, brought her to the hospital, she neglected to tell the doctors that both she and Eliza were HIV positive. It is not clear that Eliza could have been saved by the time she was brought to the hospital, but without an accurate medical history, doctors lost valuable time in determining the causative agent, and therefore, the appropriate treatment for Eliza's pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. Pneumocystis is an otherwise harmless bacteria that causes pneumonia only in people who are severely compromised by AIDS or other immunologic failures.

Why did Christine Maggiore withhold this critical information? She did it because she is an activist who believes that HIV does not cause AIDS. She had a homebirth with Eliza because no doctor would care for her unless she agreed to take medication to prevent the transmission of AIDS to her unborn child. She was counselled not to breastfeed Eliza, but she did so, and published pictures of herself breastfeeding Eliza to show her confidence in her belief that HIV does not cause AIDS. She never allowed Eliza to be tested for HIV, because she felt that there was "no need". After her daughter's death, she gave interviews claiming that she did not mention her HIV status, and the fact that her daughter was almost certainly HIV positive, because she did not want the doctors to "discriminate" against her daughter. Although the autopsy report and the slides of the pathology examination have been released publicly, Maggiore insists that Eliza died of an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics, not of pneumocystis pneumonia.

Did society fail Eliza? Or do parents have the "right" to sacrifice the lives of their children because of their own delusions? There is a very good chance that Eliza would be alive today and AIDS free if her mother had followed medical advice. Did Eliza have a right to the best medical care that society can offer or does her mother's right to follow her own beliefs supercede a child's right to live a healthy life, or even to live at all?

What is the difference between the delusions of Christine Maggiore, and the delusions of vaccine rejectionists? Both have precisely the same scientific foundation, which is to say no foundation at all.

Christine Maggiore, for her own personal reasons, truly and deeply believes that HIV does not cause AIDS. Many homebirth advocates truly and deeply believe that homebirth does not lead to an increased risk of neonatal death. The risk of death from AIDS is much higher than the risk of death from homebirth, but the principle is the same. Do parents have a "right" to sacrifice the lives of their children on the altar of their personal beliefs?

0 Old Comments: