Death of an AIDS Skeptic

Christine Maggiore, an AIDS activist-turned-HIV/AIDS-skeptic, died in her home Saturday of pneumonia, according to the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles coroner's office has yet to determine if her pneumonia was AIDS-related. If it was, it could serve as an ironic end to her work, promoting the idea that there is no definite link between HIV and AIDS, and that HIV tests are inaccurate.

Whatever details her autopsy reveals, Maggiore's life may prove to be more controversial than her death.

Since 1992, Maggiore founded two HIV/AIDS skeptic groups, including the Alive and Well AIDS Alternatives group in Los Angeles. Later, she traveled to Africa and is said to have personally influenced former South African President Thabo Mbeki's decision to block funding for HIV-positive pregnant women in South Africa.

Maggiore also appeared on TV, in Mothering magazine and in documentaries describing her decision to marry, have unprotected sex, and later breast-feed her two children without taking the drug AZT, which is typically prescribed to prevent an HIV transmission from mother to baby.

AIDS researchers and public health advocates have overwhelmingly condemned her work and personal life as deadly.

"They caused the death of thousands of South Africans by delaying treatment and spreading infections," said Dr. Charlie van der Horst, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Van der Horst referred to a journal study that estimated 330,000 lives were lost to new AIDS infections during the time Mbeki blocked government funding of AZT treatment to mothers.

"There is a space in hell reserved for them," said van der Horst.

Other scientists have a more visceral reaction to Maggiore's cause.

"The image, on the cover of a magazine aimed at mothers, of her heavily pregnant, naked belly, daubed with a slogan 'No AZT' in red paint was one of the single sickest images the AIDS pandemic has ever seen," said John P. Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

At the time of the picture, Maggiore was pregnant with daughter Eliza Jane Scovill. In 2005, Eliza Jane died at age 3 of pneumonia. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office determined her death to be AIDS-related, but the Scovill family claimed Eliza Jane died from a reaction to antibiotics.

Maggiore and her husband, Robin Scovill were investigated, but never faced any charges related to the death.

A Friend Lost

Michael Ellner, a long-time friend and associate of Maggiore's, believes the stress from her loss and the public backlash to her views caused her untimely death.

"I lost somebody that I admired and loved, and I expect in the next couple of weeks that she'll be raked over the coals, even though she's dead," said Ellner, who teaches hypnosis techniques to medical professionals and is the founder of HEAL, a volunteer group that disseminates AIDS skepticism information.

Ellner met Maggiore in 1992, shortly after she received an HIV diagnosis and shortly after she met Dr. Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Duesberg became known as a lone wolf in the AIDS research world for his theories that the strong, toxic nature of AZT drugs actually induces AIDS.

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