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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK


Health

HIV mother told to test baby

The High Court ruled that the baby should be tested for HIV

Three Court of Appeal judges have ruled that the baby of an HIV positive mother must be tested for the virus.

The woman was seeking leave to appeal against a High Court ruling earlier this month after Camden Council in north London brought a case against her.

Aids Special Report
The High Court said that it was in the interests of the five-month-old baby girl, whose mother is HIV positive, that she be tested and concluded that medical evidence in favour of testing was "overwhelming".

Appeal judge Lady Justice Butler-Sloss said that, although the couple - who were not present at the Court of Appeal - were not strictly in contempt of court, they should "examine their consciences as to whether they ought to be going off like this with their child and behaving in a somewhat irresponsible way".


Dr Navelli, a solicitor during the case
She added that the parents' rejection of orthodox medical opinion "cannot stand against the right of this child to be properly cared for in every sense".

"This child has the right to have sensible and responsible people find out whether she is or is not HIV positive, either as a result of being born to her mother or as a result of breastfeeding," she stated, adding that the baby had a one in four chance of being infected.

Alternative medicine

The girl's parents are opposed to testing and think it will lead to further state intervention in the way they choose to bring up their child.

If positive, for example, she could be given anti-HIV drugs. If negative, her mother could be banned from breastfeeding her child.

Doctors say HIV can be passed from mother to baby in breast milk and they argue that anti-HIV drugs can save the child's life if she tests positive.

However, the couple do not believe HIV causes Aids and are firmly in favour of alternative medicine.

The father practises alternative treatment and the mother is reported to be healthy, despite her HIV diagnosis.

At the weekend, the two were reported to have fled the country ahead of the 24 September date set for the baby's HIV test at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

This resulted in Camden council obtaining a court order on Friday to locate the child.

The council's housing department believes they may be at an address in London, meaning the weekend report could have been a smokescreen to avoid the test.

Lady Justice Butler-Sloss said: "I hope they have the good sense to bring the child back, because to be on the run is not very sensible."

Division

The case has divided HIV charities. The Terrence Higgins Trust says testing will help guarantee that the baby receives the best treatment available, if necessary.

But Denise McDowell, services manager with Manchester-based George House Trust, said: _The courts have shown that informed consent is of no interest to them.  

"What is also clear is that using the law in this way is likely to drive HIV underground.

"This is completely counter-productive, helping neither parents or children affected by HIV and threatening to stigmatise all who are worried about HIV._

The trust says the case has wider implications and could, for example, deny all parents the choice of refusing vaccinations for their children.



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