Sunday, January 25, 2009

Speaking ill of the dead

On 26th December last year, a 52-year old American woman called Christine Maggiore died. The world is a better place without her.

Isn’t that an appalling thing to say? Shouldn’t one only speak well of the dead? Not necessarily. Should we only say good things about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Idi Amin because they’re dead? No, I think it’s OK to say that we’re glad when someone wicked stops disturbing the world with their foul deeds.

Christine Maggiore was wicked too. Maggiore was an AIDS denialist. Who died of AIDS.

She was HIV positive but instead of campaigning for better treatment, greater research and for public education she founded a deranged group of pseudoscientific charlatans called “Alive & Well” who denied the connection between HIV and AIDS, suggested that the she was still alive because HIV did NOT cause AIDS and that anti-retroviral drugs were of no value.

So far all we have is a fool, but Maggiore went much, much further.

Despite knowing her HIV status and despite the overwhelming evidence of the dangers she refused to take the appropriate medication while pregnant and then later decided to breast-feed her children.

When she was only 3 years old her daughter Eliza died of pneumonia, almost certainly brought about by AIDS. Still insisting that she was right she claimed that her daughter instead died from a reaction to an antibiotic. The autopsy disagreed. It showed that Eliza had AIDS encephalitis and PCP, the variety of pneumonia most associated with AIDS. In short it showed that her mother had killed her with neglect.

Sometimes people ask where the harm in so-called “alternative medicine” and denialism can be found. They think it’s just a few harmless homeopathic remedies bought by the gullible. They think that a few herbs here or there never did anybody any harm. Well, in most cases that’s perfectly true. Nobody ever died from taking a homeopathic remedy, simply because they don’t contain any remedies, they’re just water. Few people will come to any harm from taking some herbs sold by a quack.

However, every so often someone will take one of these remedies instead of something that works. Every so often someone will fall for the denialist claptrap we see and stop taking their real medication, the one that works. Then they pay the price, or worse still their children pay it for them.

I confess that in a very cruel moment I was glad that Christine Maggiore survived long enough to see what she’d done to her daughter but then I calmed down. Nobody should have to see that, it’s beyond understanding how terrible that must be.

But it WAS her fault. Science, medicine and rationalism could have saved Eliza’s life but they were all rejected in favour of stupidity, pseudoscience and denialism. There’s the harm.

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