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Woman Wins the Right

Summer 1999

Bangor, Maine -- A mother who feared powerful AIDS drugs would kill her HIV-infected 4-year-old son rather than extend his life won the right Monday to refuse treatment for the boy.

A state judge refused to give custody of Nikolas Emerson to the state Department of Health Services, which had argued his mother was jeopardizing his health.

Valerie Emerson had said that she saw her 3-year-old daughter go through an agonizing death while on the drug AZT, and she did not want Nikolas to suffer the same way.


"Valerie gets to keep custody, she gets to make all the decisions regarding his medical treatment," said Kim Sheridan, her sister. Emerson had no immediate comment. Emerson, 27, is infected with the AIDS virus herself and has stopped taking medication as well. She passed the virus on to Nikolas at birth. She has two other children who do not have the virus.

Her only daughter, Tia, died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1996 just before her fourth birthday.

Insufficient evidence

Emerson's attorney, Hilary Billings, said Judge Douglas Clapp found that there was insufficient evidence that the boy's health was in jeopardy from being denied medical treatment.

Clapp also found that the evidence suggested the combination of drugs was still experimental and carried the risk of side effects while not guaranteeing a positive outcome, Billings said. State officials said they had not seen the ruling and had no immediate comment.

The so-called AIDS cocktail has improved the health of many AIDS patients by suppressing the virus. During Thursday's hearing, however, two scientists testified that AZT and other powerful drugs will overwhelm Nikolas' immune system and kill him faster than if he were left alone.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
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