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A Mother Allowed to Refuse Treatment to Her HIV-Positive Son

Winter 1999

AP -- In Portland, Oregon a mother who is worried that powerful AIDS drugs might kill her HIV+, 4 year old son can continue to refuse treatment, the state Supreme Court decided on November 12th.

The court warned that if the boy's condition worsens or new medical treatments are developed, the state could be given the right to demand treatment. The court unanimously upheld a judge's ruling that Valerie Emerson's decision does not amount to an imminent threat to her son, Nikolas, as defined by the state child abuse law.

Ms. Emerson is also HIV+ and her only daughter, Tia, died of AIDS related pneumonia in 1996 just before her fourth birthday despite getting AZT in combination with other antivirals. She has two other children who are not positive.

A judge rejected the state Department of Human Services' attempt to seize custody of the boy if his mother would not allow treatment, saying the state had not proven Nikolas would not be harmed by a three drug combination some say is more effective than AZT. The state did not appeal.

The boy's court appointed guardian appealed, arguing that Nikolas' immune system will continue to deteriorate if he doesn't get treatment . The boy lives with his mother.

The state Supreme Court decided that the judge appropriately weighed the competing interests of the child, the parents, and the Department of Social Services, along with the benefits and risks to treatment.

"Neither the parents nor the state should assume that the trial court's decision, affirmed by our opinion today, is necessarily the final word on treatment for Nikolas," Chief Justice Daniel Wathen wrote.

Copyright ©1999 by People With AIDS Working for Health, Inc. Non-commercial reproduction is strongly encouraged.

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