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The Christine Maggiore Story Continued…

Marcus Cohen
Townsend Letter
July, 2006

My previous column (Townsend Letter, June 2006) about Christine Maggiore opened by recounting her turnaround from HIV-AIDS believer to HIV-and-mainstream-AIDS-therapy doubter, a change of viewpoint that was followed by a nasty campaign on the part of the AIDS establishment to discredit her post-conversion activities. My column then reviewed the death of Maggiore’s three-and-a-half year-old daughter Eliza Jane from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic prescribed for an ear infection in May 2005. The column went on to cover insinuations in the mainstream media that Maggiore’s views on HIV and AIDS prevented Eliza Jane from getting “appropriate” treatment.

Fueling the media insinuations was an autopsy report from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, released four months after the child died, finding that AIDS-related pneumonia and AIDS-induced encephalitis caused her death. My first column about Maggiore closed with a review of the autopsy report by an independent pathologist, with supportive comments by two other pathologists. The independent reviewer concluded there was no evidence of pneumonia of any kind; he and one commentator observed that the coroner’s report had failed to consider the likeliest cause – a severe adverse drug reaction, for which there was credible pathologic evidence.

The other commentator noted that the neuro-consultant for the coroner’s office had failed to do controls for the positive staining of the inflamed brain tissue, pointing out that such staining is “not in any way diagnostic of the presence of HIV or any other virus or pathogenic state...positive staining can also be found in normal tissues and contexts.”

Interviews with Christine Maggiore and David Crowe

For this follow-up column, I phoned Christine Maggiore and also David Crowe, who has written copiously on AIDS and other medical issues. Letters by (or cosigned by) Crowe have appeared in JAMA, The Lancet, Pediatrics, and Medical Hypotheses. He is a member of the board of Rethinking AIDS, an international science-oriented organization established 15 years ago to encourage debate and discussion of the HIV model of AIDS causation. Right after Eliza Jane died, Crowe set up a web site (www.JusticeForEJ.com) to spread accurate, detailed information about the circumstances. The site has allowed Maggiore to grieve privately, rather than reply to attacks blaming her skeptical positions on HIV and AIDS treatment for the child’s death.

I contacted Maggiore and Crowe because I wanted background information on why the LA County coroner’s office took so long to finish the autopsy. I also wanted to know how the report came to the attention of The Los Angeles Times. The LA Times had published a 3,000-word front-page article on Maggiore’s daughter’s death without first obtaining a copy of the report! According to Maggiore: We have no official explanation for what went on between the May 18 autopsy and the coroner’s September 15 conclusion of AIDS-related pneumonia. I can’t help but wonder if the four-month delay had something to do with the disparity between the conclusion and the medical evidence. My daughter’s lungs showed no sign of pneumonia at autopsy, nothing ever grew in her spinal fluid culture, and we still have no confirmed positive HIV test. Another troubling point: the dubious evidence for HIV encephalitis was added in mid-September, two days after the coroner’s office announced the report was complete. Curious to know whether the post-mortem contained anything about Eliza Jane’s HIV status, I asked Crowe if the coroner’s autopsy had included an HIV antibody test. He told me a box on the autopsy report form had been checked, indicating the test had been performed, but what the result may have been appears nowhere in the full report. “I can’t account for the coroner’s silence on this matter,” he said. “If they’d tested and found Eliza Jane positive, they would have put such a crucial finding at the head of the report, red-flagged it for the media.”

Maggiore informed me that her attorneys had requested a complete list of the HIV diagnostic tests done on her daughter from the coroner – tests actually conducted and tests ordered. Several weeks later, the coroner’s office finally responded, referring her attorneys to the diagnostic lab. The lab delayed, too; eventually, they sent her ten Western Blot test strips, but with no identifying information as to which of the ten tests – all, one, or some – pertained to Eliza Jane.

Returning to the September 24th Los Angeles Times article about Maggiore, I wondered if phone conversations she had with Daniel Costello, one of the two reporters bylined, had provided clues as to the apparent haste in which the article had been written. (As mentioned, the Times didn’t have the autopsy report, just portions phoned in by the coroner’s office. They had also sought comments from Maggiore on the article before going to press, but before Maggiore, her attorneys, an independent pathologist, or Eliza Jane’s doctors had received copies of the autopsy report from the coroner’s office.) “Costello said he was under tremendous pressure to get the article out,” Maggiore recalled. “I asked if the pressure came from the editor or the coroner. Costello answered no to both. When I continued to probe, he refused to name the source.”

In my previous column on Maggiore, I mentioned that a series of HIV tests ranging from positive to indeterminate with one negative had plunged her into the AIDS maelstrom in the early 1990s. I questioned if she was still HIV-positive. Her last test, she replied, was in 2001 when she was pregnant with Eliza Jane; the test at that time returned positive.

Despite reaffirmation of her positive status, Maggiore declined prevalent standards of care for HIV-positive expectant mothers: anti-HIV drug cocktails, intravenous AZT infusion during labor, C-section delivery, six weeks of AZT for the baby (regardless of its own HIV status), and formula feeding. Maggiore stressed that her decisions to forgo drug treatment, have a normal birth, and breast-feed were based on “a careful and extensive review” of the medical literature: I’ve found no studies in any peer-reviewed medical journal demonstrating that HIV tests are able to diagnose current infection with HIV, directly detect the actual virus, or identify HIV-specific antibodies. There’s nothing in the literature, showing that any type of HIV test has been validated by the direct isolation of HIV from the fresh, uncultured plasma of people with positive antibody or detectable RNA or DNA results. Most relevant to choices of care for children with HIV-positive mothers, I find no studies indicating that whole, infectious HIV has ever been isolated directly from human breast milk. Given the well-established health benefits of breastfeeding, and the serious health risks associated with the consumption of toxic AIDS drugs, I’ve chosen to do as any mother interested in the best possible outcome for her children would do.

Maggiore says she remains open to information that would challenge her findings: I always ask my critics for references to tenable data that would update my knowledge or show me the light, so to speak; but even experts commenting in the media about me or my case don’t respond with journal articles or studies. After I listened to bio-ethicist Nancy Dubler on national television argue that the state should have taken my kids away and had them tested, I e-mailed a very polite letter to her office at Montefiore Hospital, New York, asking for the study she feels best demonstrates the accuracy of HIV tests. Her only reply [was that] I have a loose screw. I also contacted Dr. Harry Vinters, a UCLA pathologist, cited in the LA Times as agreeing with the coroner’s conclusion. Again, very politely, I asked Vinters if he would share with me the evidence he found in the autopsy report for pneumonia; pneumonia is universally defined as inflammation of the lung caused by disease, and the report says there was no inflammation of my daughter’s lungs. Vinters never responded to that or to my question about the diagnosis of encephalitis; EJ had no symptoms indicative of encephalitis such as high fever, headache, or loss of mental acuity, and the autopsy found no swelling of the brain and clear spinal fluid.

An ABC News 20/20 program aired in 2001 reported that the California Department of Child and Family Services had looked into a complaint against Maggiore for the care of her son Charlie. I asked Maggiore when and how that occurred, and she answered: It was in 2000. An investigator from DCFS phoned my office and announced that an anonymous caller had reported me as an HIV-positive mother who “didn’t believe in AIDS,” and told them my son’s only food was breast milk and that he was ill and malnourished as a result. The caller admitted he did not know me or my family personally and could not give DCFS my son’s name or age, but within an hour, we had an investigator at our house. Fortunately, she saw right away that my son was healthy, happy, and well cared for. After following up with our pediatrician that same day, the DCFS determined the accusation was without merit and closed the investigation. “By the way,” I interjected, “what was Charlie’s HIV status then?” Maggiore continued, “We referred the investigator to Charlie’s pediatrician for an answer. He explained that since Charlie had never been ill, he hadn’t recommended an HIV test.” Moving forward to 2005, Maggiore returned to Eliza Jane’s situation: Once I got wind of the coroner’ conclusion about Eliza Jane, I knew Charlie’s eight-year record of perfect health wouldn’t count, and it was only a matter of time before DCFS would show up at our house. So despite what I know about the tests’ inability to diagnose actual infection with HIV, I had Charlie tested three times. All came back negative. But Charlie’s three negatives were not enough for DCFS. They insisted he test again and even threatened to get a court order to remove him from our home if we did not agree. So Charlie tested for the fourth time that day with negative results. In anticipation of any challenges to our custodial rights, my husband Robin also took three HIV tests. All returned negative, though we’ve had nine years of intimate contact.

Prosecution of Maggiore for Criminal Negligence Threatens

Custody of Maggiore’s son may not be a present concern, but prosecution for criminal negligence in the death of her daughter is an ongoing threat: Last September, the Los Angeles Police Department began sending out detectives to interrogate neighbors, friends, parents and teachers about Eliza Jane’s health and my parenting. Detectives still show up at Charlie and EJ’s school, still call on anyone they can find who knows me, even remotely. From what these people tell me, the detectives’ interviews involve medical questions, how runny was Eliza Jane’s nose, what color was the mucus, did she ever have cold sores; opinion polls on whether I am a neglectful parent for not having her tested, whether I should be taking AIDS medicines, what they would do if they were HIV-positive. One mother told me that when she’d remarked to a detective that her HIV-negative son had a runny nose and herpes cold sores, he angrily retorted, “But I bet his lungs aren’t full of herpes lesions like Eliza Jane’s!” That’s really out there, since the autopsy shows no evidence of any lesions in my daughter’s lungs. But the most bizarre question I’ve heard of is, “Does Christine teach?”

Conclusion

After my interview with Christine Maggiore, review of the mainstream media stories about her and Eliza Jane, close readings of the coroner’s autopsy report and the independent critique of that report, I can’t buy into the idea that she is a neglectful parent, or the shabby notion that her dissent on HIV and toxic antiviral therapy are essentially responsible for her child’s death, or – least of all – the simplistic labeling of Maggiore’s choices of care for herself and her children as “flaky.” Would there have been any inquisitional coverage by the media of Eliza Jane’s parental care and death had she not been a child of Christine Maggiore, prime thorn-in-the-side of the HIV-AIDS establishment?

There’s been a strong tendency in mainstream medicine, health care regulatory agencies, the media in general, and the majority of the American public to regard any choice of therapeutic approaches that depart from community practice norms as “kooky.” And if patients under such treatment (adult or minor) worsen or die, to equate such treatment with medical negligence. This tendency holds even where the efficacy and mortality rates of conventional therapy for conditions treated with alternative care are the same or not as good as the alternatives. The condemnation of Christine Maggiore for “negligent” care of Eliza Jane is one more example of this widespread tendency.

As for the threat of criminal prosecution for negligent care: HIV-AIDS extremists have proposed criminalization of dissenting positions on causation and treatment, on the grounds that public expression of disbelief of HIV-AIDS dogma “unconscionably” encourages patients to forego drug therapy, resulting in death. (The scientific literature indicates that toxic drugs can contribute to the progression of AIDS.) I get a feeling that, in the Maggiore case, some power behind the scenes is driving the effort to prosecute, pushing for a trial and a conviction that would serve as a legal precedent to force antiviral therapy on pregnant and nursing mothers and their young children.