Alberta Parents On Trial After Naturopathic Remedies Result In Son's Death

Canadian couple David and Collet Stephan are on trial after their son died from meningitis

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people in parenting groups on Facebook ask for medical advice. As if Joe Everyman on Facebook is qualified to give medical advice. I’m shocked by the number of times they are told to forgo seeking input from a doctor and instead opt for a natural remedy.

It’s not that naturopathy is a terrible thing. It’s not. But it is does not replace scientifically proven medical treatments.

An Alberta family learned the hard way that forsaking medicine for an ill child can have dire consequences. First, they suffered the greatest tragedy possible when their toddler son died of meningitis back in 2012. Now David and Collet Stephan are on trial for failing to provide the child with necessities of life for relying on naturopathic remedies rather than medical care that could have saved his life.

Before anyone reading this thinks I have a negative bias against naturopathic remedies, I do not.

Back when my daughter was a colicky mess, I tried every technique under the sun and talked to my doctor about what we could do to stop the screaming at every well baby visit. When my friend recommended I speak to her naturopath, I didn’t hesitate. Nor did I hesitate to trust that the recommendations she gave me had a basis in education she received about alternative therapies. I trust in their training of alternative treatments and did follow her suggestion. My daughter’s colic subsided shortly after. Whether it was because she finally hit the golden 4 month mark where colic typically subsides, or that the remedy worked, I will never know for sure. But I won’t say with any certainty at all that it didn’t have a positive impact. It certainly didn’t hurt.

But if my child has a serious medical condition, I won’t be consulting with a naturopath. That is the time to seek medical care from a medical professional, maybe even a second opinion if necessary. But you don’t forsake life-saving medication when your child’s life could be at risk in the name of natural remedies. That is negligent. Such choices kill.

“Most parents in the country would probably not have done what they did,” Dr. Michael Rieder, chair of the drug therapy committee for the Canadian Paediatric Society told Terri Coles at The Brew. “But there’s a lot of parents in the country who do have kids who use, or they are thinking about using, alternative medicine or therapy.”

That fact, in and of itself, is not an issue. The problem, in this case, is that these parents did so without any guidance from a medical practioner.

Rieder encourages people who use alternative treatments for their children to speak with their practitioners about the therapies and treatments being used, whether they are conventional or not, to ensure treatments are not going to cause contradictions which can be dangerous.

“Nearly 20 percent of the parents in the University of Alberta study didn’t consult with a doctor or pharmacist about alternative therapies they were using along with conventional ones,” Coles said.

That’s why David and Collet Stephan are on trial for not providing the necessities of life to their son. Not because they believe in natural remedies. But because they failed to acknowledge their limitations and seek medical attention for a disease that can only be cured with traditional medication.

No parents should have to say goodbye to their child and certainly not for something that could have been prevented.

It will be interesting to see, as the trial unfolds, if the Stephans are found culpable of contributing to their son’s death because they chose to forsake medicine. If they are, it won’t be a comment on the quality of naturopathic remedies. It will, however, be a comment on their limitations and our responsibility, especially as parents responsible for our children’s lives, to acknowledge them. 

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