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In March of 2016, I wrote about the tragic 2012 death of Ezekiel Stephan. Ezekiel, who was not vaccinated, died from a preventable case of bacterial meningitis. As he suffered, being described as so stiff that he could not even be put into his car seat, his parents treated him with useless herbs and sought care from a naturopathic doctor. His parents also ignored advice from a medically trained family friend to seek appropriate medical care. Finally, as his body became overwhelmed with bacterial sepsis and his lungs and brain were developing collections of pus, his parents called emergency medical services but he had no real chance of recovery.

The Stephans were ultimately convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life and sentenced to a few months of jail and house arrest, but were released early pending the outcome of an appeal. Ezekiel’s parents repeatedly demonstrated a lack of repentance, and his father took to claiming that they were the victims of a government (and Big Pharma) conspiracy. The Court of Appeals rejected the appeal, but because it was a 2-1 decision it was kicked up to the Supreme Court of Canada who would eventually order a new trial.

Yesterday, this new trial concluded with the acquittal of the Stephans. Despite an extremely consistent clinical presentation, the finding of diffuse inflammation/pus around the brain and spinal cord, and positive bacterial cultures in a child who was already not breathing (and almost certainly beyond any chance of recovery) by the time his parents finally chose to call for appropriate medical help, Queen’s Bench Justice Terry Clackson found that Ezekiel had viral meningitis. Furthermore, Clackson found that Ezekiel had died because the ambulance didn’t have the appropriate size oxygen mask and that the Stephan’s didn’t know he had meningitis, two patently absurd assertions clearly refuted by the facts of the case.

The medical examiner who did the autopsy testified that Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis, but a pathologist called by the defense said the child died from a lack of oxygen to the brain when he was in an ambulance

The pathologist called by the defense was Dr. Anny Sauvageau, Alberta’s controversial former Chief Medical Officer who also disagreed with the same medical examiner in another recent high profile case. Concerns that Sauvageau might be biased were raised in the initial 2016 trial, during which she “promised to be neutral”. More concerning to me is that her disagreement with the medical examiner in this case appears to be based only on a reading of the medical examiner’s report and a 911 call which she cites as evidence that the child was asphyxiated. In a 2018 trial involving another case of parental abuse, she similarly contradicted the findings of a different medical examiner using questionable logic.

The Crown has the right to appeal this ruling, although they have not made any announcement yet in this regard. I hope that they do because I truly believe that the judge is mistaken. I don’t believe that justice has been served in the case of poor Ezekiel Stephan. And his father is already crowing about being vindicated and how this is a win for parental rights. I’ll close with this chilling quote from Judge Clackson:

Ezekiel was indeed sick, but the law does not impose a duty to seek medical attention for every sick child.

I can’t imagine many things more heartless and ignorant than that. Ezekiel wasn’t merely sick. He was in agony. He was intermittently seizing, his head pounding and his neck and back searing as pathogenic bacteria spread from his lungs to his brain through the bloodstream. He didn’t have the developmental capability to understand why, but you can be confident in the fact that he suffered as he slipped into a comatose state from which he would not recover.

Ezekiel, and all the children who have died at the hands of their parents’ world views, deserved better.

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Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @SBMPediatrics and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.