I had heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing medical treatment on religious grounds, but when I heard the case of David Stephan, 32, and Collet Stephan, 36, from Alberta in Canada who didn’t seek medical treatment for their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, I was astonished. In countries where modern medicine is available, and is either affordable or free, it makes sense to use that facility surely?
The couple were charged under Section 215 of the Criminal Code which deals with “failing to provide the necessaries of life.” They were found guilty by a jury of eight women and four men on 26 April 2016, after Ezekiel had died in March 2012. The parents believed he had flu or croup, and for two and half weeks treated him with hot peppers, garlic, olives, onions, and products from a naturopathic doctor. Their aim was to boost his immune system, but he had contracted bacterial meningitis where the only remedy and chance of survival was a course of antibiotics, which his parent had denied him, choosing to give him herbal remedies instead.
There is no doubt that the parents loved their child, but the responsibility of his health lay in their hands. In a world and era where there is no excuse for a lack of knowledge or facilities in the Western world, the jury could only find them guilty. Canada is unlike Liberia where there are no medical facilities; it’s a modern country with a high level of medical care. The parents had the internet and access to libraries and pharmacies where they could have sought advice for free. These days there are free online doctors you can chat to, and websites that offer information on symptoms (apparently they did ring a friend who was a nurse, who said it sounded like croup which they looked up online and followed recommendations), so there really is no excuse.
The parents chose to put their own personal beliefs ahead of the welfare of their child, and while it is a tragedy he died, most sane and sensible people know if symptoms get worse after 48 hours, to seek professional help, as in a licensed medical doctor. Waiting two and half weeks was too long, and in this case the hospital visit where Ezekiel died was the first time he had ever seen a doctor. Sadly, even though it was suggested that Ezekiel may have meningitis, the parents continued on to give him natural herbal remedies, despite the nurse’s recommendation of visiting a doctor. According to the naturopath consulted, they too advised the parents to seek immediate medical help, but the parents chose not to. How can you defend their actions when they were advised to seek medical help from more than one source, and it’s clear that bacterial infections only respond to antibiotics? It was negligent of the parents who put their own beliefs ahead of the welfare of their child. Having listened to the 911 calls, the parents also were not prepared, with no idea of their address or where the nearest hospital was. Is that responsible in this day and age?
Sometimes young parents don’t know any better, but that’s why public healthcare is important so that children do have a chance, even if their parents don’t know what to do. I have personally experienced parental negligence, but in my case through ignorance and my parents to this day still feel guilty. At seven-years-old I had chicken pox, a severe case, yet my parents thought it was a rash. They treated me with herbal ointments and sent me to school each day. I cannot tell you the pain I suffered for nearly three weeks (and obviously I scratched) where the red lumps were sore and having eucalyptus oils put on them burnt my skin. One day my teacher asked me why I was crying after morning break. I showed her my red lumps and that they hurt so much I couldn’t stop crying. My parents were summoned to the school and scolded by the head teacher for not taking me to the doctor. She told them I would be scarred for life, the whole class was in quarantine, and that my brother would get chickenpox as well. If it hadn’t been for that teacher who asked me why I was crying, I don’t know when any treatment would have been sought. My parents had no excuse; there was a pharmacy five doors away (the pharmacist, Mr. Gilpin was a friend), and the local surgery was a five-minute walk away. The result was my brother got chickenpox, recovered and returned to school, yet I was off school for nearly three months (it was that severe) because it had not been caught early enough. Yes, I am scarred for life and I see those scars each day, and remember the pain of each one. My parent bought me every single toy I ever wanted when I was ill, and I know they felt guilty, and probably still do. However, they put their own beliefs ahead of my welfare and health, and that was not right or fair.
I actually don’t like taking medicine for anything if I can help it, but I have the common sense to know when to seek medical help, and to know if a natural remedy is appropriate or not. Natural remedies can soothe and help prevent certain ailments, but they rarely cure. They can help with aches, pains, but they won’t clear up an infection or help control blood pressure. It makes little sense when people opt not to use the medical facilities that are available, especially in the case of children where their immune system is weaker, and they have no say in what happens to them. How many people in a Third World country would jump at the chance to have modern medical care?
In the case of my parents, did they learn their lesson from me? No, recently my father became ill and my mother decided to employ her own natural remedies. As I am an adult now, I was able to take action and call the emergency services against their wishes. The result was an immediate heart operation with a 25 percent chance of survival. They both now admit if I hadn’t called, we would have been preparing for a funeral. Finally they have learned, natural remedies are fine for certain things, but when symptoms persist seek professional medical help. There is no excuse when it’s free and available. Before it was a lack of knowledge and resources, but with technology today, advice, information, and consultations are available 24/7. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse.
©2016. The Nomadic Philosopher.