In April of this year David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life to their son Ezekiel, who died of meningitis in March. The parents trusted naturopathic remedies instead of taking their son to a medical doctor, even though he was gravely ill. During the sentencing hearing, Justice Rodney Jerke was unambiguous about his contempt for the anti-science attitudes held by the couple and their associates.
Before sentencing David Stephan to 4 months in jail, Jerke said that “Any reasonable and prudent person would have taken action,” instead of waiting until it was far too late to take a small child to the emergency room. Jerke added that “David simply got more nutritional supplements and, instead of calling of 911, called his father.” David’s father is involved in the natural supplement business. Justice Jerke left no doubt that relying on naturopathic medicine instead of providing proper health care for Ezekial, was a criminal act and called it “morally blameworthy conduct.” Before sentencing Collet Stephan to 3 months house arrest he called her “willfully blind” to the fact that her son was not being provided the attention he needed.
The parents must also do 240 hours of community service and have been ordered to take their other three children to a medical doctor at least once a year and a public health nurse every three months. Justice Jerke also ordered Collet to post a full and unedited copy of the judgement on every website or social media account she is affiliated with, making the sentencing judgement crystal clear to everyone.
David, however, does not seem to understand how his actions were unlawful and the justice noted that he “demonstrated a lack of remorse”. The Stephans and their supporters believe that the government has no right to dictate how parents care for their children and that their conviction represents a “dangerous precedent”. During sentencing a protester disrupted the proceedings by shouting “The stewardship of children is the parents’ responsibility.” Outside the courtroom a small group of people held signs and gave interviews promoting science and (real) medicine. One doctor pointed out that having children is a privilege, and that all children have the right to proper health care and that it is the parent’s legal obligation to provide it. A child’s health is indeed the parents’ responsibility.
Tim Caulfield, research director of the University of Alberta’s Health Law and Science Policy Group, used the term “quackademics” to describe the growing number of people who reject medicine and science and embrace pseudoscience such as naturopathy instead. This misplaced belief wastes money and can, indeed cause irreparable harm. This judgement is an important one in that it underscores the rights of children to proper health care no matter what quackery the parents believed, and to deny it is a criminal act.