Did HIV-Positive Mom's Beliefs Put Her Children at Risk?

ByABC News
December 8, 2005, 3:37 PM

Dec. 8, 2005 — -- From the moment Eliza Jane Scovill came into the world on Dec. 3, 2001, she was strong and feisty -- much like her mom, Christine Maggiore.

Maggiore describes Eliza Jane as "fierce, sweet, intelligent... wildly creative, imaginative."

"She loved music, singing, dancing. She loved her older brother, Charlie," Maggiore said. "I just wanted to live as long as I could to know her, to ... listen to her speak, to bask in her beauty."

In 1992, Maggiore tested positive for HIV. While researching her diagnosis, she became a member of a small, but radical movement proclaiming that everything we thought we knew about AIDS was wrong -- even the most basic premise, that HIV causes AIDS.

She addressed huge crowds at rock concerts, and sparked protests in Africa. Mainstream scientists dismissed her message as dangerous. But a defiant Maggiore was intent on practicing what she preached, refusing to take anti-viral medication like AZT when pregnant.

She and her husband, filmmaker Robin Scovill, had a son, Charlie, in 1998. When she began breastfeeding her son in public, there was outrage that an HIV-positive mother might be literally feeding her child a deadly virus. Evidence shows that breastfeeding increases the risk of transmitting the virus to children by up to 15 percent.

Authorities investigated, but in the end, determined that her son was well cared for and healthy.

When Eliza Jane was born in 2001, Maggiore -- still healthy without anti-AIDS drugs -- again refused anti-viral treatment when pregnant and later insisted on breastfeeding.

"Breastfeeding provides important antibody immunity," Maggiores said. "I wanted to give my children every advantage, and by doing so with Charlie, I raised a beautiful, healthy son. By breast feeding Eliza Jane, I had a beautiful, healthy daughter."

Maggiore also refused to test her children to see if they were infected with the virus.

"Why would I risk the stigma, the medical label, the toxic drugs? It didn't make any sense to me at all to subject her to that. It's my job as a parent to protect my children, and do everything I can to ensure they lead a long, healthy, happy, productive life," Maggiore said.

But when Eliza Jane was 3 years old, she suddenly became ill. "In late April, she suddenly developed sniffles and a cough," Maggiore said. "I took her to the pediatrician after a few days, because I wanted to make sure she was OK."