This time the faith is not religious, but faith in homeopathy and herbal remedies; and the child is not from the U.S. but Canada.
According to both the National Post and the CBC News Calgary, a 44-year old mother, Tamara Sophie Lovett, was charged two days ago with both criminal negligence and “failure to provide the necessities of life” to her 7-year-old son, Ryan, who died in March of a streptococcus A infection. Such an infection is almost invariably curable by penicillin (the bugs, surprisingly, haven’t evolved resistance to that old antibiotic, even over many years). It’s possible that Ryan had necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called “flesh-eating bacteria,” but in a child that is also treatable if caught early.
From the National Post:
According to police, the boy was bedridden for 10 days before his death, however, the mother declined to seek medical treatment, relying instead on homeopathic remedies, including herbal medicines.
“It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents,” said Calgary Police Service Staff Sergeant Michael Cavilla. “The message is quite simple: If your child is sick, take them to see a doctor.”
Police said they arrested the 44-year-old woman on Friday; charges are pending. She cannot be named until she is formally charged. [Note: the CBC names her since she has been charged.]
According to Sgt. Cavilla, the boy looked poorly before he died and several of the mother’s friends had advised her to seek a doctor. In the early morning on the day of his death, she phoned 9-1-1; paramedics arrived to find the child in cardiac arrest. He was later pronounced dead.
. . . An autopsy concluded he had a Group A streptococcal infection that could have been treated with penicillin.
The police said they have no medical records for the boy prior to his death. The child had recently been enrolled in a local school. Prior to January of this year, he had been home-schooled.
The law violated was this one:
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a legal requirement for a parent or guardian to provide the necessaries of life, which are defined by the courts as food, shelter, care and medical attention necessary to sustain life and protection from harm.
“If you do not provide medical attention to your sick child, you will be held accountable,” Staff Sgt. Mike Cavilla said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
From the CBC:
Police allege the victim’s mother ignored pleas from friends to seek medical treatment for Ryan.
“There were a number of people that had contact with the child during the period of illness,” said Cavilla. “These people did approach the mother and suggested that she do take him to see a medical professional.”
The definitive assessment appears in the Post (my emphasis):
Tim Caulfield, a scholar and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, said cases like this are tragic and increasingly common.
“The interest in and demand for complementary and alternative medicine continues to grow. There are many factors driving this trend, including suspicion of conventional medicine and ‘Big Pharma.’”
He said this has resulted in an increase in measles outbreaks due to vaccination fears, and the growth in popularity of naturopathic practitioners, who often prescribe ineffective homeopathic remedies.
“Alternative medicine is associated with many risks,” he said. Supplements often don’t contain what they proclaim on the label and herbal remedies can interact with conventional medicine.
Further, alternative therapies can induce patients to avoid effective, conventional treatments, he added.
“We don’t need alternative medicine and conventional medicine. We need science-based medicine. Period,” he said.
Indeed, for how can you show that something works unless it’s scientifically tested? Such tests of homeopathy show no effects; likewise with intercessory prayer. And although the Christian Science Church publishes testimonies of healings, they don’t mention the number of time prayer didn’t cure. And even if they did, such reports are anecdotal.
The CBC notes that this situation is not a one-off, even in Canada: “Juliet Guichon, a medical ethicist and an assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine, says it’s not uncommon for the medical profession to run into parents who don’t believe in conventional treatments.”
The fact that Ryan was abused by dosing him with useless herbal and homeopathic treatments shows that the problem here—like the problem with all the children I’ve described who succumbed to religiously-based medical neglect—is ultimately not religion but faith. Faith in alternative medicine shows many of the same pseudoscientific traits as does faith in religion, the main difference being that religious child abusers see the judgment of God hanging over their actions. But in both cases child abuse results from a rejection of modern medicine and an unwarranted faith in unevidenced remedies, whether they be prayer, herbs, or water placebo. Religion, like homeopathy, is a pseudoscience, resting on faulty but strongly held statements about reality. And in this case the conflict between science and faith—a conflict that we’re repeatedly assured is not real—proved fatal.
It’s not rocket science to see this, as did one Canadian police officer:
“We have no direct information that religious beliefs factored into this, but there was a belief system and homeopathic medicine did factor in,” Sgt. Cavilla said.
The CBC site has a video of Ryan dancing around: a lovely and lively child. Here he is:
Over at Science-Based Medicine, Harriet Hall has a new article on the dangers of faith healing.
h/t: Royce, Don