Tysons regain custody of son Felix

KATHLEEN AND David Tyson on Dec. 29, 1999 finally regained full custody of their infant son, Felix. Previously they had lost custody of Felix to an Oregon state agency (RA March and June, 1999). Because of Kathleen's HIV-positive status, agency officials and a local doctor (none of whom the Tysons had consulted) wanted to force the Tysons to administer AZT to Felix and withhold breastmilk. The authorities subscribe to the popular beliefs that HIV causes AIDS, and that breastfeeding increases, while AZT reduces, the likelihood of its transmission.

The Tysons asserted their right and intention to breastfeed and to reject AZT therapy. Their attorney presented experts, including RA Group President David Rasnick, PhD, to explain the scientific rationale for considering HIV as a harmless dud, AZT and other "anti-HIV" drugs as ironically constituting some of the factors that actually cause AIDS, and breast milk as possessing no demonstrated ability to transmit HIV anyway.

The judge, though, sided with majority medical opinion. He awarded custody to the agency, placing Felix with his parents on the condition that they agree to follow the agency's recommendations and submit to regular compliance monitoring, which they did.

Felix meanwhile persistently tested HIV-negative. By December 29, 1999 his negative status had passed beyond the time frame during which the standard view of HIV regards AZT as beneficial. Furthermore, he had been kept from Kathleen's breast long enough to make breastfeeding impossible.

So in the end state officials and autocratic physicians have had their way in imposing their beliefs on the Tysons, overriding the family's own carefully drawn conclusions and dictating the terms of the most intimate parent-child interactions.

The Tysons figure that if they had kept silent, pretending to accept the standard view, they would have retained the option to feed Felix what they consider to be nourishing food (breastmilk) and to withhold from him what they consider to be a poison (AZT). But they wanted formally to establish such rights for all families. Though they wish they could have provided Felix his mother's milk and avoided AZT, they do not entirely regret their decision to fight the larger battle. They hope that the RA Group's leadership and lawyers have useful new data with which to develop more effective legal strategies for future challenges, and parents have additional data to help them avoid the HIV quagmire.

-- Paul Philpott