Canadian parents killed their kid by withholding medical care in favor of maple syrup and berries

Even the rational Canadians have a sprinkling of loons among them, and by that I mean human loons, not the ones on the one-dollar coins.  The latest pair is David and Collet Stephan of Alberta, whose son, Ezekiel, became ill with meningitis four years ago. As the CBC reports, Ezekiel was ill for several weeks, but the Stephans, whose family runs Truehope Nutritional Support, a dubious food-supplement company in Raymond, Alberta, didn’t take their child to the doctor. Rather, they dosed him with a mishmash of ineffectual nostrums:

In a bid to boost his immune system, the couple gave the boy — who was lethargic and becoming stiff — various home remedies, such as water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root as his condition deteriorated.

Court heard the couple on tape explaining to the police officer that they prefer naturopathic remedies because of their family’s negative experiences with the medical system.

That didn’t work, of course. In the end, Ezekiel worsened, stopped breathing, and was airlifted to Calgary. But it was too late. He died—in March, 2012. Now David and Collet are on trial for “failing to provide the necessities of life” for their son. They’ve pleaded not guilty and have responded by claiming that “they are being unfairly persecuted and that their approach to health should be respected.”


The late Ezekiel

Someone’s also set up a “Prayers for Ezekiel” Facebook page, with the following last-minute note, and on that page David Stephan defends the family’s actions.

Dear little Ezekiel was brought into the hospital after he stopped breathing on Tuesday night. He was rushed to Calgary and was on life support at the Children’s Hospital. He had no indication of Brain function but his organs were in great condition. The doctors gave us until the middle of Sunday to find improvement. Please send love, healing energy and strength in prayers to Ezekiel’s family. ♥

A heart, for crying out loud: an organ the family apparently doesn’t possess. There was also a “crowdfunder” page for legal defense, but it seems to have disappeared.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.37.58 AM

The Stephans family. There are three kids left (note the picture of Ezekiel). What chance do they have?

While religion doesn’t appear to be involved here, faith is—crazy and unsubstantiated faith in the efficacy of these “natural” remedies for meningitis. David and Collet Stephan are due no “respect” for their “approach to health.” That’s equivalent to giving respect to those who think that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession.

We have science now, and we know how to treat meningitis. When caught early, it’s highly curable. Parents have no “right” to neglect cures known to work in favor of those that don’t, and neglectful parents deserve not respect, but scorn, opprobrium, and, yes, jail. If they’re not punished, it sends a message to parents that they can treat their children how they want.

At least the Canadian government is prosecuting them. In the U.S., in most states the Stephans wouldn’t be prosecuted if they pleaded that their treatment was based on religious faith— or, if they were prosecuted, would be given a slap on the wrist. But there should be no exemptions for such child neglect, religious or otherwise. Children are at the mercy of their parents’ faith, and can’t decide for themselves. When parents neglect medical care—which of course is free in Canada—in favor of superstition, and thereby harm their children, they should be punished, severely. Such punishment is known to deter others from curing via “faith”—as it has done with some religious sects in the U.S.

One line of the CBC’s report struck me:

The Crown told court the couple loved their son and are not accused of ignoring or killing him. But they should have sought medical help sooner, the Crown argues.

Yes, they may well have loved their child, but they loved their superstitions more. Were they truly ignorant, or willfully so? If they wanted to use supplements, they could have supplemented the maple syrup with national healthcare.

And what about the Stephan’s other three children? Will they grow up believing in nutritional supplements in place of scientific medicine? If so, they’re the equivalent of Christian Science children who get indoctrinated into that pernicious faith and thus perpetuate the killing of innocent children from generation to generation.

There should be no  exemptions, religious or otherwise, for parents seeking to avoid medical care by treating their children with faith, whether that faith involve God or maple syrup. The Stephans, who show no remorse, should be jailed, and their children given to other families willing to treat them properly when they become ill.

h/t: Russel

p.s. One note: in 47 of the U.S.’s 50 states, parents don’t have to get their kids vaccinated to attend public school if those parents have religious objections. In 20 states, you can get exemptions based on philosophical objections. The disparity between religion and philosophy is telling.


  1. James Walker
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Alberta is Canada’s Bible Belt.

    • dan bertini
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink


    • normw
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      If I remember correctly Raymond Alberta is mormon country.

    • Posted March 10, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s hard to believe religion is not involved here when the kid’s name is Ezekiel.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 10, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

        It is strange they don’t add a religious spin to their justification, whether real or not. they would likely receive greater deference if they did.

  2. Posted March 10, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I would argue that this form of crazy is indeed ultimately religious/spiritual. The omnipotent and ever-.reliable naturalistic fallacy is most usually founded on some form of belief in intelligent design. Even if it’s some kind of vague Romantic or Aristotelian-style “nature” that did the designing.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      I’d argue that, too. The Stephans weren’t misled consumers trusting that the science had been done, they were deeply embedded in what they themselves would likely call Spirituality.

      It’s supernaturalism without borders. Nature knows what is best for you, if you live in tune with it and reject modern-day methods. Intentions are magic because Reality cares.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted March 10, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Unltimately, the distinction between a “natural” remedy and an “artificial” one is a meaningless distinction.

        I kinda sorta get the notion of “natural” foods, but the exact definition is vague and subjective here as well.

        Perhaps between 10 to 15% of what Truehope is doing is valid, but if so classical science is the best arbiter of what exactly that 10 to 15% is.

  3. Dave
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Tragic tale, but no matter how many of these cases there are, it never seems to deter the next pair of deluded loons from concluding that they know better than the cumulative experience of the medical profession.

    On a side note, why in the 21st century would anyone want to call a kid “Ezekiel”?? I pity kids whose parents lumber them with ridiculous names, though it’s academic now in the case of this poor boy.

    • Tom Snow
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      I kinda like “Ezekiel.” It’s one of a few old-timey names I’d like to see revived.

      • Dave
        Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        I suppose you can shorten it to “Zeke”, which is a semi-respectably normal-ish name, at least on the American side of the Atlantic.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      “Ezekiel” has now become a common 21st century name. Nobody today is going to think it’s “ridiculous” or at all strange.

      “Dave,” on the other hand, is out (though “David” is doing a bit better.)

      It seems to me that the general rule is that new parents look for unique or cool names from the era of your grandparents or great-grandparents. Then they become ubiquitous… again.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 10, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Parents also take suggestions from TV and movie stars. I remember in the 60s when the name Jennifer became so common every classroom I entered had one or two “Jennifers”. As best I can tell the name started with a very famous soap opera star called Jennifer.
        I forced my parents to name my brother “Kevin”, my favorite Musketeer.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 11, 2016 at 1:14 am | Permalink

          Luckily for your brother your favorite wasn’t Annette.

          (I think you meant Mouseketeer, right?)

          • rickflick
            Posted March 11, 2016 at 5:27 am | Permalink

            My favorite female Mouseketeer was Karen, as I recall. But, yes, my spell-check overlords required Musketeer, and I caved.

            • Posted March 11, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

              Just think of what would have happened to your brother if he had been named “d’Artagnan” 😉

  4. Randy Schenck
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    It’s funny that stupid does not show up in a photograph. They look like a normal family. No tests or licenses required to have kids and you don’t need an ounce of sense.

  5. Mike
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    This kind of Criminal Stupidity puts me in a Rage it’s a good thing for them I’m not their Judge.

    • GBJames
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink


    • Kevin
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Or a parent of child whose child attends the same school theirs does. When chicken pox ripped through three of my eight year old’s classmates there was something I did not predict: a pronounced shunning of the mothers of the children who did not vaccinate their kids.

      There is, in some communities, a self policing effort to weed out the stupid and it comes simply with this motivation (particularly effective among mothers): you hurt my child and I and all my friends will shun you till you vaccinate your children.

  6. dan bertini
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The dangers of homeopathetics and naturopathetics is obvious. And what a waste of maple syrup. Lock them up and throw the keys away. Why do they allow these sham schools to operate? Big SUPPLA should be shut down as well as the pseudoscience providers.

  7. Stephen
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    So sad. What a waste. Much of the real damage done in this world is not accomplished by evil people but by good people who are deluded.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Yes. And we consider them “evil” when we hold them responsible for knowing better.

      Even the Nazis thought — and ISIS thinks –the special insiders with the special insight have a moral obligation to save the world and usher in a Golden Age of peace, harmony, and love. And sometimes peace, harmony, and love will look like torture if you’re “deluded.”

  8. Draken
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    But evidence-based medicine is fascism (PDF), didn’t you know?

    • Posted March 10, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I love that article. By the way, has anyone figured out if the feminist glaciology article is a hoax or not? I thought it was real until I read the part about having sex with glaciers; now I’m leaning toward hoax.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    There is no difference between this and starving your demon-possessed child.
    Put put a well known phrase a bit more broadly: Faith poisons everything.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    their approach to health should be respected.

    Horse manure!

    Their approach let their child die and can’t be respected.

    Their approach let their child die and can’t be tolerated. As the trial shows.

  11. rickflick
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Both parents should be jailed ’till the youngest is 18.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    These parents insist they love their child, but did not seek proper medical help because of their own “bad experiences with the healthcare system.” They were unable to put their child’s needs ahead of their beliefs – that is not love in my view.

    I think you could probably argue this is worse than some of the religious cases because these parents, as far as we know, have no delusion they will receive some form of supernatural punishment for taking their child to a doctor/hospital. (I am not, of course, excusing religious people in any way by that comment.)

    • Posted March 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      I still wish to think that they would seek medical help but underestimated the severity of Ezekiel’s condition.

    • Posted March 11, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I tried to be charitable, for I am myself far from the perfect parent and have made serious mistakes, including ones affecting my children’s health. Then, I sought more information; and unfortunately I saw that you were right and I was wrong.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted March 11, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think there’s any such thing as the perfect parent. All you can do is try to do your best and always do right by your child. All parents get it wrong sometimes. The difference is whether you did it deliberately or not and imo that’s the problem with parents like these ones.

  13. Mark R.
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Tragic. Not only could he have been cured, but he also would have been saved from days and days of needless suffering.

    In the US, depending on the state, someone can go to jail for being cruel to animals. Strange how this doesn’t cross over to humans when the cruelty is done in the name of some unsubstantiated belief.

    I hope justice prevails and these foolish people get to mull over their stupidity in jail. And btw, in jail you won’t be eating any “natural” food.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 10, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Given the widespread popularity of foolish, unproven alternative treatments in veterinary medicine, someone who treated a very sick pet with homeopathy or Bach’s Flower Remedy (which is an even dumber version of homeopathy, one which my friends swear by) might very well get the same sort of faith-based pass from a public drunk on the idea that good intentions, spiritual forces, true belief, and conspiracy theories mean you’re okay because you meant well.

  14. tony in san diego
    Posted March 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Jesus never got vaccinated!

    • Posted March 10, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      With his divine genes, he was presumably immune, but we the poor flock need vaccines :-).

      • Kevin
        Posted March 10, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        What humanity needs is a vaccination from believing in people with schizotypal personality disorders, like, Jesus or Mo.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 11, 2016 at 1:19 am | Permalink

        All because of stupid ol’ Eve!

        • Posted March 11, 2016 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          I’ve seen creationists claim that the Fall is the reason why our genome is full of junk DNA and prone to disease-causing mutations!
          (They apparently never think of the junk DNA and mutations in other species.)

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 11, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

            Well, they must have had their duplicitous Eves, too! 😉

  15. Posted March 10, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Nucella's Blog and commented:
    The sad consequences of using ‘Natural Cures’ instead of medicine.

  16. Posted March 10, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    These parents have no idea how to manage illness, they are solely focused on health, not everybody is healthy all the time and that’s when you might need medical attention.

    My son has this at 18mo of age, he nearly died from it, but ended up surviving without brain damage which is very common.

    I credit CHLA with saving his life when other hospitals sent us packing to other hospitals because they had no idea what he had.

  17. Posted March 11, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Spoken like someone who has never had a child.

    On a regular basis, I wonder whether this sickness is one that my child might die from. Is this cough bronchitis, or just a cold? Is she going to stop breathing, or is she totally fine? Oh, turns out it was just the cold or a flu, as it has every time so far.

    But as a parent, I never stop second guessing myself and worrying on that score.

    Sounds like these people guessed wrong, and another infant died, like they do from initially minor things, all the time, every few minutes, as everything that medical science, society, and their parents can do fails.

    But from the high & secure tower of hindsight, looking down on the great unwashed masses who actually have children, it’s CLEAR that that they were misguided and directly caused their child’s death. Obviously.

    • Posted March 11, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Ummm. . . read the story; the kid was sick for weeks, and very sick toward the end. They were concerned about him to dose him with nostrums rather than take him to a doctor. They only called the doctor AFTER he stopped breathing. And why do you think the government is charging the parents if their behavior was within normal parameters.

      As for the crack in your first sentence, that’s gratuitous–and rude. You should read about the history of this kid’s illness before you get on your high horse and start acting all I-know-best.

      I’m always amazed at the people who come over here and are simply rude–and, in this case, ignorant. I guess that’s normal for the Internet, but I won’t have that kind of nastiness on my site. I suggest you go post on a Followers of Christ or Christian Science website.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 11, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      Spoken like someone who has never had a child.

      On a regular basis, I wonder whether this sickness is one that my child might die from. Is this cough bronchitis, or just a cold? Is she going to stop breathing, or is she totally fine? Oh, turns out it was just the cold or a flu, as it has every time so far.

      So when you’re caught in such a dilemma, one horn of which is “my child might die from [this],” your fall-back position is wait and see? As a parent of two kids my mantra was always better safe than sorry.

      Sure, with a little experience you learn when you can dare wait a day or two and when you probably shouldn’t, but at the back of my mind was always something like meningitis which can turn deadly overnight. (Note that one sign of meningitis is a stiff neck; note that Ezekiel became “lethargic and stiff” and his parents responded with…hooey.) Most pediatric practices have nurses on call for phone consultations 24/7. Neglecting to seek medical attention in a case such as this is at the very least child abuse, and when the child dies, why is it not manslaughter?

      And yet these parents are still arguing that “their approach to health should be respected.” In what universe is that anything but the most audacious hubris imaginable?

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 13, 2016 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    One note: in 47 of the U.S.’s 50 states, parents don’t have to get their kids vaccinated to attend public school if those parents have religious objections. In 20 states, you can get exemptions based on philosophical objections. The disparity between religion and philosophy is telling.

    I don’t see any point in holding my breath in anticipation of an improvement in this situation in the US – not for decades, if not generations. But didn’t Australia ban unvaccinated kids from schools about a year back? Is that having the desired effect of increasing vaccination rates, or the undesired one of increasing home-pseudo-schooling rates?

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 14, 2016 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Big ships turn slowly. But in my lifetime I’ve seen such advances in civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights…that’s really not that long in the scheme of things. Look how quickly gay civil rights and marriage snowballed after initial tentative steps like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a mere three presidencies ago.

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