On March 10 I told the story of David and Collet Stephan, a couple from Alberta who killed their son Ezekiel, afflicted with meningitis, by withholding medical treatment in favor of bogus “alternative” medicine. Here’s what the CBC said when reporting on their prosecution for criminal neglect. (Ezekiel died in 2012):
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.
The Stephan family runs family runs Truehope Nutritional Support, a dubious food-supplement company.
Ezekiel had bacterial meningitis, which is highly responsive to antibiotics and can be easily cured if caught early. If left untreated, death is the almost invariable outcome, as it was in his case.
But good news for rationalists: the CBC just reported that David and Collet have been convicted by a jury, which deliberated only 9 hours, for “failing to provide the necessaries of life.” I hope the sentence, levied in June, will be a stiff one, for if ever there’s a case for punishment levied to deter others, this is it. Other children regularly die for faith-based healing, whether it’s religious or based on the Stephan’s “faith” in alternative medicine. To me, it’s the same as murder through neglect. In this case the maximum sentence is only five years, but it will likely be lighter. As the CBC reports:
Shannon Prithipaul, the past president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, thinks it would be unlikely for the couple to receive “something close to the maximum.”
“It’s not like they were not feeding their child or they were purposely withholding medication that they knew would assist the child but didn’t,” she said.
That’s bogus. They were purposely withholding medication that any rational person would know is the right thing to give such a child. They didn’t even take him to a doctor until he stopped breathing, but he was already dead! If these parents get off lightly, it will be a signal to others in their position—First Nations parents who treat leukemia with herbs or other religious parents who substitute prayer for medicine—that they might suffer no legal consequences at all.
In fact, this case is exactly like religiously-based withholding of medicine, for in both situations the damage is based on faith. That the conclusion of experts who have watched this case, and a major contention of my book Faith Versus Fact. “Faith” is belief without sufficient evidence to convince most rational people, and whether that be based on religion, ideology, or belief in “alternative medicine,” it’s all the same, and all equally culpable in a case like this.
Here’s another CBC story on the Stephans; click on the screenshot to go to it:
Why is this such a revelation? Do people not see the parallel between faith in God and faith in maple syrup? How surprising is this?:
“It’s like a religion to them,” says Tim Caulfield, research director of the University of Alberta’s Health Law and Science Policy Group. He has written the books The Cure for Everything! Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness and Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?
“Studies have shown that some people are more likely to believe these kinds of things. They’re more likely to believe in the supernatural. They’re more likely to be religious and they’re more likely to buy the entire package of complementary and alternative practices.”
But Caulfield is right, and makes a good point:
Caulfield says individuals can not only find information that backs their own personal beliefs online, but entire cyber communities that agree with them.
“When you start insulting and say there’s no evidence to support homeopathy, there’s no evidence to support these kind of whole remedies — you’re not just insulting the practice — you’re insulting the individual. It becomes part of their belief system.”
Caulfield says it isn’t easy to get people to change.
“When people are faith-based, which so many of these practitioners really are and so many people that use this, they can’t change their mind, because then they’re losing part of their identity package.
“They’re losing part of who they are.”
Caulfield wants a national dialogue about what he calls pseudo-science.
“It’s almost like there’s this strange, pseudo-science correctiveness … that stops us from talking honestly about what these guys provide.”
And that “pseudo-science correctness” is even harder to dislodge (and more easily excused by the public) when it’s based on religion. Even if we can’t change people’s minds, though, we can make sure the law gives a stiff corrective to faithheads like the Stephans. And we can also recognize that homeopathy, acupuncture, crystal healing, and other such nonsense are just as faith-based as religion.
Yes, the David and Collet Stephan were people of faith, but that’s a term that should always be taken not as the usual compliment, but as a profound criticism.
h/t: Taskin, Diana MacPherson