Death of an AIDS Skeptic

"She didn't match everyone else who had AIDS," said Ellner, explaining that Maggiore came to doubt mainstream AIDS research during her early years as an AIDS activist. Ellner said Maggiore never appeared to be as sick as others around her.

"There are always positions and counter-positions in science and legitimate differences of opinion," said Thomas J. Coates, the Michael and Sue Steinberg professor of global AIDS research at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "There have been those who have questioned many links -- tobacco and cancer, emissions and global warming, circumcision and reduction of HIV risk, etc."

Coates said many big debates, such as evolution versus creationism, are not life threatening.

"People still have the right to disagree," said Coates. "But, in the case of questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, one has to ask a bigger question: What are the consequences? In the case of HIV/AIDS denialism, the consequences are death and disability and suffering and misery."

Life in the Spotlight

Ellner pins the blame for Maggiore's misery elsewhere.

This November, Ellner said Maggiore was bombarded with calls and e-mails about an episode of "Law & Order" that seemed to mimic some elements of Eliza Jane's story. The episode featured a baby who died of AIDS-related pneumonia and a mother who believed it was a reaction to an antibiotic.

"She lost a child, she was accused of murdering her child and then everything was brought up again in November," said Ellner. "This time of year, suddenly you develop the cold and flu, and with stress, that can lead to pneumonia. ... You can blame it on the HIV, but that's my opinion -- she was killed by chronic stress."

Ellner never denies that AIDS itself exists. However, he does question the accuracy of the HIV tests, he questions that HIV leads to AIDS and agrees with Duesberg that AZT causes AIDS.

"I see Christine with different eyes. The average person doesn't appreciate that she studied this issue," said Ellner.

But that does not impress van der Horst.

"There's no question that HIV causes AIDS," said van der Horst. "There's absolutely not a single credible scientist who would disagree."

Ellner said that the HIV antibody test can only detect a "footprint" of a virus that was once in the body. However, van der Horst said the antibody test can detect both -- evidence of an eradicated virus, and evidence of a "chronic" virus, like herpes or HIV that continually lives in the system.

Van der Horst also points out that doctors have a second test for HIV that can detect the virus in the blood directly -- called the HIV viral load test. With drugs, doctors see less HIV in a patient's system.

Van der Horst joined 5,000 other scientists by signing the so-called "Durban Declaration" in 2000. Developed in Durban, South Africa, the document asserted that HIV causes AIDS and that an effort to treat HIV is the best hope of fighting AIDS.

Gail Wyatt, a couple's sex therapist associated with UCLA, personally encountered Maggiore, and thinks a different approach would settle the debate.

"I was on the Ricki Lake show about four years ago speaking against Christine's insistence that she and her husband did not need to use condoms and that she did not need to be on medication," said Wyatt. "I think that pointing the finger at those who doubt they need to re-examine their resistance to obtaining care may just entrench them in their positions.

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