In all the years I have been educating myself about HIV and AIDS, I have never met even one AIDS Reappraiser who wasn’t personally affected by this baffling illness in some way, either by a loss to it of someone very close or by struggles with their own health ‘related’ to an HIV diagnosis. I, personally, have lost count of the friends who I have watched shrivel-up and die over the years — all of them so young — since this dark, bewildering cloud of sickness blew into all of our lives. I feel shell-shocked and exhausted from the sheer numbers. Looking back, I think death stopped meaning anything to me years ago.
Now, when I hear of another friend who is slipping away, I go into a kind of withdrawal — trying desperately to avoid the inevitable next loss somehow. Horrifically, I have lost all patience with the sick and dying. I feel like a dry well… yet somehow filled to overflowing with a sense of hopeless inadequacy and shame that I have so little left to give them.
As I write I realize that I am in a kind of Denial: Denial of my ability to survive even one more death-bed loss. One more senseless, unexplained passing. And yet each time I lose another friend, I survive somehow, each time scarred more deeply.
In years of watching these precious people waste away and die, I have learned nothing about exactly how they died, or what killed them really. It varies so immensely.
I have known those who seem to carry-on just fine faced with a condition so many insist will always kill, blithely continuing their lives with an astonishing ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude. Doing nothing but simply living far away from the panic and fear. Still smoking. Still drinking. Not even vitamins. And carry on they still do. Are they just lucky? Or just wise? Both maybe?
Many of those I’ve lost, followed their doctors’ advice, or succumbed to peer-pressure, to take ‘HIV’ drugs, only to die of the toxicities. Others avoided those treatments entirely and died of various untreated infections or wasting – untreated because of a helpless terror and desperate unwillingness to deal with the frailty of their health, or have anything to do with Western Medicine. Or any Medicine for that matter. Some were always healthy and then suddenly not, and some always seemed unusually fragile and vulnerable to illness. And everything in-between. All that seems to tie them together is this vague diagnosis – these ‘HIV’ antibodies. I have no idea what that means. I do know that in watching all this from so close, no tests, no medical ‘markers’ are even slightly reliable or predictive. It’s a total crapshoot. Anyone with this diagnosis is, in my opinion, in a kind of medical and scientific free-fall. Grab your parachute. You could die. Or not.
One thing is absolutely clear to me: I have never met even one HIV positive person who felt healthy whose quality of life was improved by HIV drugs. What benefit there may be is certainly limited to those very near death, in my experience.
The whole business is ever-present in my life. There are so many, many reasons that AIDS reappraisers like me argue so passionately for a re-examination of the diagnosis, causes, treatments and prevention of AIDS.
Every one of those reasons was a living, breathing person.
We understand all to well what it is to watch friends die — to feel the desperate loss over and over and over. Those experiences are precisely why I feel that I owe it — we all owe it — to them to look fearlessly at everything we know up to now, particularly the unexplained complexities that surround our collective assumptions about AIDS’ causes and treatments. For their sake and all those who struggle with an HIV diagnosis, I ask that we cast an unflinching eye on the shortcomings of HIV theory. How could that be wrong? And yet when any of us dare speak out publicly, we are called Aids Deniers. Anyone who points out complexities is called evil. We are pilloried in the media, thrown out of universities and forced to the farthest regions of quackdom, and anyone seen to be giving us voice is treated with the same hateful disdain.
Interestingly, even Dr Luc Montagnier, the Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of HIV, has argued that HIV cannot cause AIDS by itself. Is he now an ‘AIDS Denier’ as well because he asserts that AIDS isn’t so simple? Is he, too, a dangerous nutbar for stepping outside the mainstream, reductionist bubble?
The AIDS Police
The term ‘Denier’ began to be bandied about many years ago by key players within the AIDS orthodoxy intent on curtailing open, public discussion of the causes of AIDS. Highly paid AIDS researchers like Dr. John Moore and Dr. Mark Wainberg — people apparently full of rage that anyone questions the premise upon which, it must be noted, they have built their careers, paid their mortgages and upon which their reputations seem to rest. The way the word ‘denier’ makes its implicit connection to the ugliness of Holocaust denial is very effective at eliminating any possibility of nuanced public discussion on the issues of AIDS’ complexities.
Indeed, Journalists are now quite loathe to give voice to anyone who might argue that AIDS is more complex than simply infection with HIV for fear they are giving voice to the AIDS equivalent of Neo Nazis. And they are quite self-righteous in their censorship. They justify it, claiming they are ‘saving lives’ by preventing us poor sods from ever having an inkling that not all is as it appears. They are taking care of us. The most recent example being the shrill calls for censorship dogging Brent Leung’s powerful, revealing and award-winning documentary: House of Numbers.
Do they really fancy that they are all that stand between us and an abyss of disease? Do they honestly imagine that if we all got wind of the fact that AIDS might be more than simply an infectious ‘social disease’, we’d all run amok, f***ing as many people as we possibly could like a bunch of demented, sex-crazed Typhoid Marys? Do they genuinely believe that total censorship of a frank, public discussion of the serious toxicities and limitations of HIV drugs is fair to patients? What happened to informed consent? Oh, wait — I remember: The AIDS Police scream shrilly that by drawing attention to the uncomfortable reality that HIV drugs can harm patients, we are actually killing them by muddying the waters. We’re confusing them by emphasizing the wrong things. Do they then mean to suggest that informed consent itself is dangerous?
These people need therapy.
Funny how AIDS reappraisers who ask for transparency and dialogue, or warn of the shortcomings or dangers of HIV treatments are accused of causing unnecessary AIDS deaths. Strange that when someone dies after years of choosing not to take HIV drugs, fingers are immediately pointed at the AIDS denialists. And yet, when a patient dies after 2 or 6 or 12 years on HIV treatments, the AIDS Police speak of the extra few years treatment ‘gave’ the patient. Curiously, these self-described ‘life-savers’ accept no responsibility for those who died from high-dosage, experimental AZT monotherapy in the 1980’s, or those whose entire skin ‘detaches’ while on AIDS drugs like Nevirapine. I don’t see them clamouring to confess their guilt. I hear no cries of ‘Murderer’! I guess it’s just collateral damage to them. ‘We did our best’. So one-sided. So self-serving. Well. It seems their Ivory Towers are built much higher than I ever imagined.
It was so much easier when I believed HIV was the One, the Only cause of AIDS. Everything was so much less complicated: I rested assured that all was on track with HIV-based research, even if progress was slow, and that if I were HIV Positive and felt inclined to pursue HIV drugs as a treatment option, I could have confidence they were the safest and wisest possible approach to dealing with HIV infection. I could throw myself at the mercy of the medical establishment unfettered by concerns about the science behind it all, and never worry my pretty little head about minor questions like HIV isolation, or the real clinical meaning — or lack of meaning — of testing HIV positive. But that place of ignorance, that blind trust in the Medical Establishment, and my unquestioning faith in consensus science — now THAT was denial. Denial of reality, denial of my own autonomy, denial of my own right to informed consent, and denial of my responsibility to myself.
These days, far from being in denial as I wrestle with all the unanswered questions HIV science generates daily, I would describe my mindset as being in full state of acknowledgment of the real state of AIDS science. I acknowledge that there are risks in doing nothing to treat HIV. I acknowledge that there are risks in treating it conventionally. In reading the available literature, I have no choice but to acknowledge the ever-changing nature and complexities of AIDS science and HIV theory. It’s all right there in the published literature. In acknowledging that science isn’t static and should never be political, I am hardly in denial. It is a true acceptance of the ever-changing reality of scientific progress and the open inquiry such progress requires.
Conveniently forgotten in all of the hate-filled, desperate oversimplification of AIDS is that there was a time when Cancer seemed simple too. Yet those days are long gone. We certainly don’t talk of single causes any longer — and with good reason: we simply know too much. The evidence has overwhelmed our desire for simplistic, reductionist answers. So when we speak of cancers’ many contributing causes, we now wisely speak of environmental factors, genetic predisposition, toxins and mutagens. Cancer is multifactorial, we say. We weigh the benefits of chemotherapy against the risks of its inherent toxicity. When making treatment decisions we talk about Quality of Life.
So, why is it so very repugnant and dangerous to consider openly the possibility that AIDS, too, may be multifactorial? That the choice to treat it conventionally (or not), and the timing of that treatment must be a personal choice? Who would it harm if this came to be accepted wisdom? Why is it so important to shut down discussion, ruin careers and slander reputations? What are they protecting so…so fervently?
Please. The only people protected by such bigoted behaviour are those whose careers depend – those who have gambled everything — on AIDS being caused simply by infection with one type of retrovirus. Do they truly think we don’t recognize conflict of interest when we see it? I, for one, am far more likely to listen to the scientist or journalist who has lost everything trying to express a point of view, or give it voice, than I am to one whose mortgage payments depend on the prevailing view they so vociferously defend.
No Stone Unturned
If patient welfare, prevention and a cure for AIDS were truly the focus within the AIDS research community, they would be looking hard at the broader significance to the immune system of the high titre of antibody seen in so many HIV positive people. We would be looking at: oxidative stress; exposure to too many different semens anally; drug use; inhalents; HIV; undiagnosed or incompletely treated Syphilis infections; HIV treatments themselves; Human Herpes Virus 6; intestinal health; access to clean water; endemic infections; poverty; nutrition and stress, just to name few factors known to damage, or suspected of damaging immune function.
But no. We just love simple answers to complex problems too much. It makes public health policy so much easier.
Frankly, in the end, I really, really don’t care what causes AIDS. I just want people to stop suffering and dying from whatever it is. It appalls me deeply that after all the hundreds of billions of dollars in research — possibly more than that spent on researching all other microbes combined — HIV research has ‘succeeded’ only in giving patients the horrifying choice between either dying slowly of Opportunistic Infections associated with a damaged immune system, or dying slowly of Liver Failure or having your skin peel off or maybe a Heart Attack caused by HIV drugs themselves. All the while ignoring the patients who do just fine for rather a long time when left to pursue their lives unmolested. So pick your death.
What a success story. What a choice. I’m sure we’re all very, very proud…
Looking at the pathetic, toxic fruits of HIV research, is it any wonder people look beyond it for help? Perhaps the AIDS Police shout so shrilly to distract us from their shame at having failed to cure even one patient in 25 years? Can you imagine the fuss if Cancer research had failed to yield a cure for even one case? Can you even imagine? In my view these people have nothing to brag about and shouldn’t be pointing fingers at anyone. They might more appropriately beg forgiveness for their massive failure. These are the same people who trumpeted to the world that there would be a Vaccine by 1990. I don’t know about your friends, but my friends are still dying.
Given those embarrassing results, instead of stalking and slandering those who offer up unique perspectives on AIDS, or censoring those — like director Brent Leung — who challenge our assumptions and our direction, perhaps they could spend some of that time, energy and money engaging with the Peter Duesbergs of the world in turning over every stone to find safe treatments, effective prevention, broader understanding, and a cure.
Carl Stryg is a former member (countertenor) of Toronto’s Period Opera Company – a successful restaurateur, businessman and award-winning historical building restorer. He is the Founder of the Heal Toronto Collective and resides with his partner in Elizabethtown, Ontario. Reprinted from The Truth Barrier.