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.”
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.
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.
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.