Tyson Family Update
IN SEPTEMBER 1998, KATHLEEN TYSON of Eugene, Oregon, tested positive for as six months pregnant at HIV. She was six months pregnant at the time and took the recommended antiretroviral medication for six weeks before discontinuing. Her healthy son, Felix, was born on December 7, 1998.
Less than 24 hours after Felix’s birth, an infectious-disease specialist counseled Tyson to administer AZT to Felix and not to breastfeed. Tyson declined this advice. Within an hour, a petitioner from Juvenile Court, escorted by an armed police officer, came into her hospital room and issued her a summons to appear in court in two days. At the court hearing, based on the testimony of one physician, Tyson was ordered to stop breastfeeding and to begin administration of AZT to Felix every six hours around the clock for six weeks. The state took legal custody of Felix, but the family retained physical custody as long as they discontinued breastfeeding and administered AZT. (See “In the Eye of the Storm,” Mothering, no. 94, May-June 1998, p. 68).
The Tyson family protested the custody decision, and there was a trial in Eugene, Oregon, from April 16 through April 29,1999, to determine the custody issue. The judge decided in favor of the state of Oregon, and the state retained legal custody of four-month-old Felix. Kathleen was yet again ordered not to breastfeed. No ruling was made regarding administration of AZT antiretroviral drug therapy for Felix, however, as he is past the age (six weeks) when postpartum AZT is routinely administered.
At the trial, the judge heard testimony from HIV and AIDS policy makers. He also heard from AIDS critics — physicians and scientists who question both the reliability of the HIV testing procedures and the hypothesis that HIV inevitably leads to AIDS. No testimony was allowed on informed consent or the nutrition rights of infants.
Tyson, who believes that she tested falsely positive for HIV, and another Oregon woman who tests negative for HIV, had their breastmilk independently evaluated in a Santa Monica lab. Neither sample showed any traces of HIV.
The Tyson family will continue to be monitored by the Oregon child welfare officials to ensure that they comply with the judge’s decision. At this time, they do not plan an appeal.
For additional information on the Tyson case, see www.televar.com/~tysn/
For more information on the nutrition rights of infants, see George Kent’s Web site at www2.hawaii.edu/~kent
For more information on HIV and breastfeeding, see Mothering, no. 90, September-October 1998, p. 67; and no. 94, May-June 1999, p. 65.
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