Two divergent realities came crashing together in the High Court at Auckland on Tuesday morning, with the life of a gravely ill baby on the line.
On one side was a young family.
They do not want their ailing six-month-old boy to receive a blood transfusion during life-saving heart surgery if the donors have received a Covid-19 vaccine.
On the other was the weight of established scientific and medical evidence.
The family’s case has become a cause célèbre for anti-vaccine activists and has drawn global media attention.
Offers from potential unvaccinated blood donors have flooded in from around the world, their lawyer and anti-vax campaigner Sue Grey said.
As well as opposing the application for guardianship from health authorities, Grey sought an order for the NZ Blood Service to provide a “direct donor service” to provide unvaccinated blood for the family.
Adam Ross KC, acting for the Blood Service, said the order was exceptional, without precedent and would jeopardise the integrity of the donor service.
After a day-long hearing, Justice Ian Gault reserved his decision.
The hearing came after Health NZ Te Whatu Ora, represented by Paul White, brought an urgent application for the courts to take guardianship of the baby under the Care of Children Act so he could undergo surgery and the transfusion.
“His survival is actually dependent on the application being granted,” White said.
White said specialists believed the child’s heart is suffering damage because of the delay in surgery due to the build-up of blood resulting from pulmonary valve stenosis, a heart valve disorder.
The parents and the baby, who was born two months premature, were in the packed public gallery for a short time on Tuesday morning. The baby was taken to court against the wishes of medical staff who wanted him to remain in hospital.
Outside a crowd of over 100 anti-vaccine activists gathered.
A trailer that was parked on a street outside Parliament as part of the anti-mandate protest encampment earlier this year, showing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern behind bars, reappeared outside the High Court for the hearing.
It was parked next to a ute labelled “Sheriff” with decals showing various National, Labour and Green politicians imprisoned inside.
Nelson-based Grey, who as well as being a lawyer is the co-leader of the New Zealand Outdoors Party, is a veteran opponent of 1080, cannabis laws, 5G and Covid-19 vaccines.
Much like at the parliament protest she was treated as a celebrity yesterday by the crowd, drawing applause whenever she left or entered the courthouse.
White said applications for court guardianship for ill children whose parents refused blood transfusions most commonly occurred with Jehova’s Witnesses, who believe it is God’s will not to receive blood.
About a decade ago, there were two cases where the courts granted temporary guardianship of Kiwi Jehovah’s Witness children so they could receive critical medical care.
“What we have is loving parents … with beliefs that contrast with the medical profession’s views based on science,” White said.
He said the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine had been established by the courts. Surgery could take place within two days of a guardianship order, he said.
There were two surprise revelations during the hearing.
The first was that the family’s legal team, led by Grey, was formally seeking a court order requiring a bespoke blood service for the baby using exclusively unvaccinated donors.
The second was that the baby had already had a standard blood transfusion.
Grey said it happened during a surgery where the parents had signed consent forms then blood became needed during the procedure.
“The fact they got away with it once doesn’t mean that we should effectively play blood roulette and try it again,” Grey said.
Ross strongly opposed the order for a special unvaccinated blood service for the baby and the application by Grey to join the NZ Blood Service to the guardianship proceedings.
“There are profound implications in what is being sought in this case,” Ross said.
Ross said the request for a specific donor service for unvaccinated blood jeopardised the integrity of the service.
“It is a concern that an order like this can damage, and will damage, an excellent blood service,” Ross said.
He suggested if such a request was granted, it opened the door to other requests that were theoretically possible to achieve - such as asking for blood from a specific ethnicity - but ethically and clinically bankrupt.
“There’s also a slippery slope element to it,” he said.
“We have been there before as a society.”
Grey cited information provided in an affidavit by Dr Byram Bridle, an associate professor in viral immunology at a veterinary college in Canada.
The material was critical of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and centred on his controversial claims of heart inflammation from spike proteins.
Last year Bridle’s claim the spike protein was harmful or toxic was circulated widely online, drawing strong criticism from experts.
William Matchett, a University of Minnesota Medical School vaccine expert, told the Associated Press the spike protein causes an immune response but is not toxic. Matchett said Bridle selectively quoted or misquoted studies to support his claim.
Ross took aim at the evidence and credentials of Bridle.
He is a doctor “of the PHD variety” not a medical doctor and lacked direct knowledge or expertise of the baby’s case, Ross said.
Justice Gault’s decision is expected to be released in the coming days. The baby’s name and any details that could lead to his identification are automatically suppressed.