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Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

Tragic story puts a face on HIV denial

This is Eliza Jane Scovill. She was the child of wealthy parents, living a good life in California. Eliza died this past spring at the age of 3 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

You may wonder how in the world this can happen in America. Don't we have tests for HIV? Don't our doctors recommend treatment to keep pregnant mothers from passing the virus onto their children? Don't they discourage breast-feeding in order to further lower the risk of transmission?

Indeed, they do. But Eliza's mother is Christine Maggiore, author of What if everything you thought you knew about AIDS was wrong? She is an HIV denier, following the lead of Peter Duesberg and Phillip Johnson. She put her child in grave danger based on her "so-called AIDS," as she calls it, and now that child is dead. And worse, she's influencing other mothers to do the exact same thing she did.

I wish more than anything that plugging one's ears and ignoring an illness would make it go away. I wish that I could believe that many of these chronic illnesses are due to drugs, and diet, having a bad attitude, or the myriad other things that "alternative" healers would have you believe are at the root of many diseases. But the evidence points elsewhere, and as a scientist, I follow where the evidence leads. So do thousands of others like me, and they've come to the same conclusion: AIDS is due to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus.

Now, some people (like the previously mentioned Phillip Johnson) try to beat strawmen when asking where this "evidence" is. Why doesn't AIDS develop in many people who are exposed? How can one virus cause so many different illnesses? I discussed some of these issues that are present with all infectious diseases in this post over at Panda's thumb. In short, it's not something that's unique to HIV, and it's not at all surprising to the scientific community that there's not a 100% correlation to infection with HIV and development of AIDS. Yet, because of the other issues that have gone along with AIDS since its discovery (sex, drugs, and disease), it seems that more people have glommed onto the idea of AIDS as a "lifestyle" disease than they have for other diseases. (Remember, 150 years ago tuberculosis was also a "lifestyle" disease). It's tragic enough when this science denial causes their own death, but it's even more horrible when it causes the death of a second innocent victim. Even more frightening, Maggiore and her husband still have not learned their lesson:

Since Eliza Jane's death, Maggiore and her husband have kept a relatively low profile, her friends said. But word is slowly reaching HIV dissidents around the country.

Though shaken, most of them say they continue to support Maggiore and her contention that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

For her part, Maggiore said that her daughter's death has taken a toll on her health; she's had trouble eating, sleeping and, this past summer, simply breathing. She's treated her symptoms with Chinese herbs, walked five miles a day and practiced yoga, and is now feeling better, she said.

She went to a sympathetic doctor, she said. "If I had gone to a regular AIDS doctor and told them I was HIV-positive, I have no doubt they would have blamed it on that."

And the worst part...

She struggled most with the whys.

"Why our child — so appreciated, so held, so carefully nurtured — and not one ignored, abused or abandoned?" she wrote. "How come what we offered was not enough to keep her here when children with far less — impatient distracted parents, a small apartment on a busy street, extended day care, Oscar Mayer Lunchables — will happily stay?"

Yes, my kids go to day care. Yes, I'm often distracted, and sometimes impatient. I don't do Lunchables, but we dine on PB&J more nights than is probably recommended. But what I make sure my kids do have is healthcare that's backed by sound science, rather than pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. It's a true shame that Maggiore hasn't learned that lesson--especially since poor Charlie's health hangs in the balance.


About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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