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Friday, 3 September, 1999, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Baby must have HIV test
high court
Mr Justice Wilson made his ruling at the High Court in London
A baby at high risk of having HIV will have to be tested for the virus even though her parents oppose it following a landmark ruling in the High Court.

The move has massive implications for parents' rights to decide what treatments their children should have.

The girl - who cannot be named for legal reasons - is four months old and her mother is HIV positive.

Her parents believe in the effectiveness of alternative medicine and say it has kept the mother healthy so far.

They had said they feared they would lose control over the way the child was treated if the test goes ahead.

But Camden Council said the baby could die if she is also HIV positive and goes untreated, and wants the child to receive the highest standard of medical treatment available.

'Baby's rights come first'

In a High Court ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Wilson said the child would have to have the test.

Aids Special Report
Having heard the case in private for four days, he made his ruling public in view of "very legitimate public interest".

Giving his judgement, he said the case for testing was "overwhelming", saying there was a 20% chance the baby was infected.

If this was the case, the baby had a right to the best treatment.

"This case is not about the rights of the parents, and if, as the father has suggested, he regards the rights of a tiny baby to be subsumed within the rights of the parents, he is wrong."

Following the ruling, the court returned to private hearings to decide how, when and where the baby should get the test.

BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford said that if the baby tested positive, the court might then order that she should be treated with drugs that can keep Aids at bay.

'The baby and the breast'

However, if she tests negative the court could consider ordering her mother to stop breastfeeding, although this might prove impossible to enforce, Mr Justice Wilson said.

The girl is currently being breastfed - even though doctors say HIV can be passed from mother to baby through breast milk - because the parents say the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks.

Mr Justice Wilson said the mother should realise the "intellectual integrity" of suggestions she should stop, even though the court would be unable to intervene effectively.

"The law cannot come between the baby and the breast," he said.

'Gruelling ordeal'

The baby's mother, who was not present in court, has shown no symptoms of Aids and does not believe there is a link between HIV and Aids.

Alison Burt said it had been an ordeal for the parents
The father - an alternative health care practitioner who has tested negative for HIV - represented himself in the proceedings. The Official Solicitor represented the baby's interests.

Alison Burt, the solicitor representing the mother, said in a statement on behalf of both parents: "The parents involved in this case have found both the proceedings themselves and today's outcome very stressful and upsetting.

"They will, over the next few days, consider the implications of today's judgement and the possibility of an appeal."

Complex case

Simon White, Camden Council's director of social services, said it had been a difficult case.

"This was a complex case which raised problems in balancing the interests of the child with the wishes of the parents," he said.

"The family were unable to agree a course of action with health professionals and we considered that by bringing the case to the High Court we could attempt to resolve a difficult situation."

He added that because the council had sought a Specific Issue Order on the HIV testing of this child, this was the only issue considered in court.

Richard Hannaford: "The judge said he hoped the parents would change their minds"
The BBC's Richard Hannaford reports: "Today's decision will have long-term implications"
The BBC's Fergus Walsh: " Every year around 250 children are born to HIV mothers in the UK"
See also:

03 Sep 99 | Health
Baby in HIV court struggle
02 Sep 99 | Health
Pregnant women offered HIV test
03 Sep 99 | Health
HIV test ruling: The reaction
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