posted 10-20-2002 07:55 PM
October 17, 2002
SOPHIE’S MEDICAL COERCION
A Story Of Fighting The System And Losing
By David Crowe
Sophie Brassard fought the "system" and lost. She lost her two sons. She lost her maternal rights. She lost her right to live quietly in Canada. She fought doctors and social workers face to face, and in the courts. Finally, she fled her native Canada and lived as a fugitive in a foreign country. At the age of 40, she succumbed physically and mentally.
I first learned about Sophie’s plight in August, 1999, through the small network of AIDS dissidents in Canada, people who at least believe that AIDS drugs are dangerous, if they don’t question the very association between HIV and AIDS, or even the existence of HIV.
Sophie’s troubles first began when her sister (irony of ironies, a pharmacologist with a large US-based biotech company) reported her to authorities during the birth of her first son. Doctors harassed Sophie on and off over the years to put both her sons on antiretroviral medications and preventive antibiotics, but she always refused. In May, 1999, one of her sons was diagnosed with pneumonia (but not AIDS-defining PCP), and doctors felt that this was their chance to turn up the pressure.
Sophie had grave concerns about the side effects of these drugs, based on her access to ‘dissident’ writings on HIV and AIDS. Sophie was found to be HIV-positive in 1986, and first encountered alternative views on HIV/AIDS and AIDS drugs in 1987, after reading an Italian book that blamed much of the disease on illicit and pharmaceutical drugs, along with the fear that comes to most people with an HIV diagnosis. At no time after her diagnosis did she take antiviral medications. In fact, she strongly rejected modern, pharmaceutically-driven medicine.
After months of increasing pressure from doctors and social workers to allow her children to submit to antiretroviral medicines and PCP-preventive therapy, Sophie attempted to flee Canada in July, 1999 with her children, but was intercepted at Montreal’s Dorval Airport by the RCMP. Soon, she was arguing in front of the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal to prevent doctors administering potent drugs to her HIV-positive sons (then 7 and 3). She was always outspoken: "My child isn't a guinea pig. What they’re doing is inhuman. I wouldn’t pollute my own body with that stuff." Her case came up shortly after a 13-year-old Saskatchewan boy, Tyrell Dueck, was ordered by courts to undergo chemotherapy and a leg amputation, and not long after the Tysons in Oregon were forced to give AZT to their son, and the mother was banned from breastfeeding.
Quebec child services argued in court that Sophie’s maternal rights should be terminated, her sons placed in a foster home, and doctors given control of the medical treatment. For two years, she would only be allowed supervised visits with her children.
Doctors were anxious not only to prescribe her sons the cutely named ‘AIDS cocktails,’ but also, at the slightest sign of an infection, potent antibiotics such as Septra or Bactrim. The choice of such antibiotics was based on the children’s HIV status and low CD4 immune cell counts, even though these drugs, as well as AIDS drugs, have very serious potential side effects, including immune suppression.
Sophie’s parents were caught in the middle of the case. They ended up having custody of the children most of the time, but this was limited, leaving medical decisions in the hands of the doctors Sophie had been battling. Her parents had once made the mistake of discussing concerns about the side-effects of antiviral medications with the boys’ doctor, and immediately fell under suspicion that they also would not fully comply with medical orders.
Sophie lost custody of her children during the first delay in the court case. The system then seemed to throw everything at her. The foster home fed her children a bland, chicken- intensive diet, with few vegetables, while Sophie was, on the other hand, a committed vegetarian. The government took her $1000/month child support payments away from her, and then hit her with a $600/month charge for looking after her children. She was entitled to some support because of her HIV-positive status, but she was frightened that she would only be eligible if she agreed to take drugs herself.
Christmas 1999 saw Sophie, alone, without her children, waiting for a decision in the court case. From December 15th, 2000 until the following January 17th, the judge sat on his decision, finally awarding physical custody to her parents, but leaving medical custody with Child Services. Sophie was legally barred from having any influence on the health of her sons or their diet, and was not allowed to see them without supervision.
By February, one of her sons was hospitalized with kidney stones, a known side-effect of the drug he was taking. She was now on the roller-coaster of drug-induced illnesses and hospitalizations. Sophie decided that she had to take desparate measures to rescue her children.
On May 13, 2000 Sophie fled from Canada to Morocco with her sons. Ironically, she learned later that social workers had tired of the case and had decided to give Sophie’s sons back to her, but had not told her before she left.
All was well until March, 2002, when Sophie became very sick with pneumonia. Her father traveled to Morocco to bring Sophie and her sons back to Canada.
I know very little of the last few months of her life. She seemed to have totally changed and was living in a dream, saying crazy things that made no sense at all. Something was terribly wrong, but I didn’t know what it was, nor did I know how to help her when she called. I was still shocked when I heard that she had died on September 16, 2002.
Sophie did not always make the right choices. Verbally lashing social workers and doctors only got their backs up, and allowed them to paint her as emotionally driven and unstable. People who get involved in situations like this usually advise a more strategic and less brutally honest approach. Those being coerced have to realize that they are not in a position to overturn the current system, and that sometimes they have to agree to treatments for their children, with their fingers crossed behind their backs. It is often easier to flush the drugs than it is to refuse to accept them. Other techniques are to change health care providers or move to another jurisdiction within the same country (prior to any court orders being applied). A battle of wills may result in a court case, and the medical system will almost always win, as long as debates around the efficacy of AIDS drugs are muted by compliant mainstream and scientific media, and mediated by a legal system that considers that the greatest experts on AIDS drugs are those who invent them or prescribe them. And, without the media seriously considering the parents’ viewpoint, public support is unlikely.
Did Sophie die of AIDS? She was certainly battling pneumonia in her last few months, but was it pneumocystis carinii? If not, it probably would not meet the official AIDS definition. But, in the eyes of many people, she couldn’t die of anything but AIDS. Even a car accident would probably have led some to say that it was a mercy, since after all, she was only going to die a lingering death from AIDS.
Consider how you would have survived for 17 years, rarely with anyone to turn to, constantly hiding your medical label for fear of being ostracized?
Sophie learned to distrust everyone from members of her family to those who claim to support and protect mothers and families. How would you survive if you believed you had a choice between poisoning your children or losing them (and having someone else poison them), and you had to live on the run, always fearful that a misstep would send you back to the greater nightmare? How would you feel when, after years of good health, doctors, would still tell you that without taking the latest and greatest AIDS pill, that you would only have a few months of health left?