Two daughters, two deaths, two forms of denialism

ostrich burying head in sand ignoring problems

Denialism kills.

Christine Maggiore was in prime form, engaging and articulate, when she explained to a Phoenix radio host in late March why she didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS.

The HIV-positive mother of two laid out matter-of-factly why, even while pregnant, she hadn’t taken HIV medications, and why she had never tested her children for the virus.

“Our children have excellent records of health,” Maggiore said on the Air America program when asked about 7-year-old Charlie and 3-year-old Eliza Jane Scovill. “They’ve never had respiratory problems, flus, intractable colds, ear infections, nothing. So, our choices, however radical they may seem, are extremely well-founded.”

Seven weeks later, Eliza Jane was dead. She died of AIDS related pneumonia in May 2005.

Denialism kills. Don’t let your children be victims.

Maggiore had a homebirth with Eliza because no doctor would care for her unless she agreed to take medication to prevent the transmission of AIDS to her unborn child. She was counseled not to breastfeed Eliza, but she did so, and published pictures of herself breastfeeding Eliza to show her confidence in her belief that HIV does not cause AIDS. She never allowed Eliza to be tested for HIV, because she felt that there was “no need”.

After her daughter’s death, Maggiore acknowledged that she never mentioned her HIV status, and the fact that her daughter was almost certainly HIV positive, because she did not want doctors to “discriminate” against her daughter. Although the autopsy report and the slides of the pathology examination were released publicly, Maggiore insisted that Eliza died of an anaphylactic reaction to antibiotics, not of pneumocystis pneumonia.

Christine Maggiore was responsible for her daughter’s death. Her denialism was more important to her than her daughter’s life.

Carsyn Leigh Davis, 17, died of COVID-19 last month for the same reason. Her parents’ denialism was more important to them than their daughter’s life.

Carsyn had a complex medical history and was immunocompromised.

No matter. Her mother posted a stream of denialist nonsense on Twitter:


Not surprisingly, she was also an anti-vaxxer:


How did Carsyn get COVID-19? Her parents sent her to this party at her church.


Her mother sent her to the party despite the fact that Carsyn had just about every possible risk factor for COVID death that any white teen could have. She had fought cancer, neurologic disease and was obese.

When she got sick, her parents (a nurse and a physician’s assistant) treated her with hydroxychloroquine. When she had trouble breathing, they gave her her grandfather’s supplemental oxygen.

It wasn’t enough. Only then did her parents seek medical care for her.

She was treated in a pediatric ICU:

Carsyn’s parents declined to have her intubated, and she instead started receiving plasma therapy, the report said. But by June 22, her condition wasn’t improving and “intubation was required,” the medical examiner wrote.

Despite “aggressive therapy and maneuvers,” Carsyn still didn’t get better, leading Brunton Davis to request “heroic efforts” even knowing that her daughter “had low chance of meaningful survival,” according to the report.

She died shortly after on June 23, twelve days after the “release party”, and only two days after her 17th birthday.

Why do denialists deny?

…[D]enialism is based on irrational and illogical thinking. Denialists do not generate new information to refute scientific claims. To the contrary, they ignore established knowledge, and distort reality to support a preconceived ideology. Denialism is grounded in rhetorical tactics that are designed to give the appearance of a debate among experts, when in actuality there is none. In fact, denialists manufacture doubt by identifying any sign of disagreement among scientists at any point in history and use that false reality to claim that the evidence is inconclusive… Discarding the objectivity and logic of science, denialists use emotionally charged assertions.

Why do some people become denialists?

Psychologically, denial is a natural coping response to threatening and traumatic experiences. It is a buffering mechanism that gives a person time to adjust before facing the threat. Denialism exploits denial as a coping response by offering an escape from the threat.

Paradoxically, those most vulnerable to the threat — like Eliza Scovill’s mother and Carsyn Davis’ parents — are most susceptible to denialism. Rather than cope with fear of severe, they deny that severe illness is even a possibility.

Do denialists ever learn?

Christine Maggiore didn’t. In December 2008 Christine Maggiore died of AIDS related pneumonia. To the very end she insisted that HIV does not cause AIDS and refused the medications that could have saved her life.

It remains to be seen whether Carsyn Davis’ parents will learn from their daughter’s death. That would require accepting responsibility for their role in causing it and I suspect that won’t be happening any time soon.

Denialism kills. Don’t let your children be victims.