The mother refusing to use vaccinated blood for her gravely ill baby has been told not to leave the hospital with him but defiantly says “we are not prisoners”.
A preliminary High Court hearing in Auckland was held on Wednesday after Te Whatu Ora-Health New Zealand filed an application under the Care of Children Act seeking guardianship of the boy to be transferred from his parents to the court so consent could be given to use donated blood in the required open-heart surgery.
The 4-month-old at the centre of the case sat in his father’s arms next to his mother during the hearing.
Speaking to journalists in front of the historic Auckland courthouse, the baby’s mother said Starship hospital staff have told her she would not be able to leave with her baby after today.
“And I said that we are not prisoners,” she said.
The boy has severe pulmonary valve stenosis, a condition described by the New Zealand Heart Foundation as one that could stop a heart from effectively pumping blood.
A stenosis is when a heart valve doesn’t open properly. This means pressure and blood can back up, causing strain on the heart.
The mother said they were desperate for an operation but needed to have “safe blood”. The family are wanting blood from people who have not had any of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“That is our right as a mother, as a voice for my baby.”
Te Whatu Ora Auckland interim director Dr Mike Shepherd acknowledged it could be worrying when parents had to make decisions about their children’s care.
“The decision to make an application to the court is always made with the best interests of the child in mind and following extensive conversations with whānau,” he said.
He wouldn’t comment further on the matter while it was before the court.
When asked how she struck a balance between the right to choose and her baby’s life, the family’s lawyer Sue Grey, an anti-vax campaigner who is also the co-leader of the New Zealand Outdoors Party, said “it’s both the same side”.
Grey told reporters it was “an unusual case”.
“There are other cases of medical guardianship where parents don’t want the treatment for their child,” she said. “This is the case where parents want better treatment for their child than the state is offering.”
Grey said Government and the New Zealand Blood Service “are not prepared to make available services that they can offer and do offer in other situations”.
“They are not making those services available for this baby,” she said.
“So it’s a really important case and it’s even more significant because not only are they not offering those services, they are saying we know best.”
Grey argued Te Whatu Ora simply needed to make blood from the unvaccinated donors available to New Zealand Blood Service.
“We have 30 or so donors with suitable, compatible blood who are willing and able to make that blood available for this baby,” she said.
“All they need to say is okay we are here to co-operate and listen to our clients.”
Grey said she had also visited the family in hospital.
“I have been up at the hospital with them watching two babies, a two-year-old and a sick baby away from home ... incredibly difficult situation for Health New Zealand and government organisations to put these parents in such an awful situation is just unbelievable.”
The mum said her son was doing well and had put on weight, “he’s thriving”.
“Those are really good signs.”
The mum, however, was not able to answer how soon the baby would need an operation.
“It is much better while he’s thriving to get the operation done than if he’s declining,” Grey said.
Grey said the family were called “conspiracy theorists” and felt their views were being ignored by medical professionals.
“What the ideal outcome would be that the blood bank accepts the blood from these donors and puts it aside ready for this baby to have the operation,” she said.
In an online video before the hearing, the parents claim they are concerned blood containing a vaccine would be used during the operation, despite their fears reportedly being dismissed by medical professionals and information published by the New Zealand Blood Service.
In the video, the parents were interviewed by former TV newsreader Liz Gunn, who has repeatedly voiced Covid-19 mistruths and was seen earlier this year confronting a news reporter about claims of fainting children at an Auckland vaccination centre - a claim that was rubbished by health officials.
On Wednesday, Justice Layne Harvey set an urgent hearing to debate the issue for next Tuesday.
Representing Te Whatu Ora at the preliminary hearing, lawyer Paul White flagged the urgency of the case and said medical professionals have said a child with such a condition would have been treated several weeks ago in normal circumstances.
Grey said the case was unusual and different from other medical guardianship cases where parents are often refusing medical care. Instead, she said, the parents want “better care” than what the state is offering.
White said Te Whatu Ora’s application to the court is ultimately based on the best interests of the child and what they view as medically safe.
He said court intervention was required because the two parties have reached what he described as an impasse.
Justice Harvey encouraged the two parties to continue discussions until next Tuesday.
About 100 people also gathered in support of the baby’s parents outside the front of the court’s entrance, holding placards and loud hailers.
More supporters were turned away by court security officers after the public gallery was filled, and waited outside.
Auckland University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre medical director Professor Nikki Turner told Newstalk ZB Covid-19 was widespread in New Zealand and that would be reflected in the nation’s blood.
“Almost all blood in New Zealand will have Covid antibodies in it so unless you’re going to refuse all blood, I can’t imagine how you’ll get round this,” she said.
“The next thing is that Covid antibodies per se are not in any way going to be a problem for the person receiving them, they’re just going to offer the person extra protection against Covid disease.”
Turner couldn’t recall an instance when blood had been deemed ill-suited to be donated because the person had been vaccinated.
“From a scientific point of view, no I can’t think of anything that would make sense at all.
“I think it may be that people confuse the fact that the product in a vaccine is being injected into somebody but it’s not the product in the vaccine that is the response, the response is the body’s response to that [vaccine] that creates the immune response.”