Two recent legal cases have concluded in Alberta, Canada, where parents had been criminally charged after the deaths of children that could have been treated with medicine. In both cases, the parents refused to seek medical advice, even when it was clearly obvious that their children were dying. These cases paint a frightening picture of parental ideology and beliefs in alternative medicine being prioritized over obvious signs that their children were in distress.
The most vulnerable suffer the most
Ryan Lovett never saw a medical doctor in the short seven years of his life. He was born at home and was never even issued an Alberta health card. His mother, Tamara Lovett, took her infant son to a chiropractor because she believed they have the same level of training as a medical doctor. She later took him to a naturopathic clinic for his health needs. Ryan died in 2013 of meningitis, pneumonia, and a streptococcal infection, after a ten-day infection. At the trial, Alberta’s acting chief medical examiner described that he was infected with group A streptococcus, which caused most of his major organs to deteriorate and fail. A computer expert testified that during this time, Tamara Lovett scoured the internet looking up symptoms, including ear infections, swollen groin lymph nodes and constant bleeding noses. Ultimately, she chose to give Ryan dandelion tea and oil of oregano instead of taking him to hospital. As per the Calgary Herald:
The day before Ryan died, a friend offered to take them both to a doctor and the defendant refused to do so. “She did not believe in conventional medicine or doctors and insisted that home remedies would take care of Ryan’s ailments,” he said. “She was of course proven wrong hours later when Ryan died in their apartment.”
Lovett later described that she believed Ryan had a cold or the flu, and thought his symptoms could be managed with home remedies. When paramedics were finally summoned, after 10 days of illness, Ryan was unconscious and in cardiac arrest. As per the CBC:
Dr. Taj Jadavji, who authored a report for trial, using medical and autopsy reports, as well as witness statements from police and paramedics, said the child’s death was preventable. He said the bacteria in Group A strep is easily treated with “a very simple penicillin.”
“You could have prevented the death of this child,” said Jadavji.
“Dandelion tea or oil of oregano have never been shown to treat streptococcus.”
‘If your child is not getting better, you are legally and morally bound to take that child to an actual doctor for actual medical care.’
– prosecutor Jonathan Hak
Tamara Lovett was convicted in January 2017 of criminal negligence causing death. She was sentenced in November 2017 to three years in prison.
Supplements before real medicine can kill
In 2016, David and Collet Stephan were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries (not a typo) of life for their 19-month-old, Ezekiel, who died of bacterial meningitis. The Stephans ignored obvious signs that the son was seriously ill, and instead used vitamins, supplements, hot pepper, horseradish, and remedies from the family’s own home business, Truehope Nutritional Support. Ezekiel had never seen a physician in his life. He had received no vaccinations, including vaccination against Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), a vaccine which protects against bacterial meningitis. And as he lay dying, the parents chose to use an Echinacea tincture recommended by a naturopath, Tracey Tannis, who never even examined Ezekiel. As per the Toronto Star:
The trial heard the little boy’s body was so stiff he couldn’t sit in his car seat, so the toddler had to lie on a mattress when his mother drove him from their rural home to a naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge, where she bought an echinacea mixture.
The Star also noted:
Justice Bruce McDonald said Collet Stephan’s testimony showed she did tests for meningitis and ignored the positive results. “If they were only to take the child to a doctor, this evidence supports the conclusion that they actively failed to do what a reasonably prudent and ordinary parent would do,” McDonald wrote.
Shortly after his conviction, David Stephan was back promoting supplements. He apparently claims that this prosecution was all part of the “vaccine agenda”. And he and his wife are now darlings of the alternative-to-medicine and anti-vaccine crowds. David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail. His wife was ordered to spend three months under house arrest. Both were released early, pending the outcome of an appeal. In a ruling released in late November 2017, the Court of Appeal refused to grant a new trial to the parents. However, as it was a split (2-1) decision, the Stephans can appeal their conviction to the Supreme Court of Canada.
David Stephan has not been shy in expressing his own opinions about his conviction. As per the Calgary Sun, Stephan has written on Facebook:
“I have come to . . . realize that within the current system there is no room for justice and truth, there is no humanity and there definitely is no love,” David Stephan wrote from his home in Nelson, B.C., hours after the Alberta Court of Appeal decision on Wednesday.
The facts are very clear in this case. Ezekiel was seriously ill with bacterial meningitis, a vaccine-preventable disease. Had he been seen by medical professionals promptly, he might be alive today. His parents endangered his life by ignoring clear signs that he was seriously ill. A nurse friend visited the family and suggested he might have meningitis, and recommended a physician assessment. The parents ignored this advice.
No science, no choice
Not providing your child with proper medical care is neglect, as these tragic cases show. Children are at tremendous risk of harms from alternative medicine when parent make treatment decisions on their behalf. Moreover, there is no shortage of alternative-to-medicine providers, like naturopaths and homeopaths, who actively promote themselves as pediatric specialists, despite the lack of any credible scientific qualifications. Has this growing acceptance and normalization of these providers created an environment where this is more likely to happen in the future? If society has a duty to protect children, are we doing enough when we simultaneously enable providers who promote “medicine” that’s not based on objective science? We can do better. If we don’t advocate for the weakest, who will?