It is all over social media this week, an Alberta family is being charged with failure to provide the necessities of life after their toddler died following a battle with an infection.
This family is being judged and vilified based on media articles that are presenting part of the story, a false story in some cases, and presenting the information with a clear bias against the family. Reading these articles, I can see why it would appear that this family was neglectful but before we judge we need to step back and get the facts or at least both sides of the story.
The media is reporting that this family treated their child with maple syrup and juice. Anyone who understands parents who chose natural remedies as their first line of defense would see this as a obvious hole in the media’s reporting. No one who understands natural health, normal physiology, or the immune system would give their child something with simple sugars when they are clearly fighting an infection. Simple sugar weakens the immune system and feeds bacteria. So this leads to the question of how truthful is the media being? According to the parents, not so much. They are considering suing CBC for defamation of character as they are now being crucified in the court of public opinion because of CBC’s article. I think, as a society, we are still under the illusion that much of what is reported in the media is investigative journalism but often it is simply publication of press releases without further detective work into the source of the information.
They are saying this child needed medical care sooner, but did he? According to the parents, their kids were both sick with a mild run of the mill sickness, possibly croup. It is not advised to see your doctor for every illness just ones that your child cannot cope with on their own. The child was coping fine and getting better. It suddenly took a turn for the worse and the sought emergency care right away. Called an ambulance and didn’t wait for it to arrive but started driving to meet the ambulance to get to it sooner. They didn’t know that the dispatcher did not send the closest ambulance and they passed an ambulance on the way to meet the one that was coming from far away. The ambulance assigned to them did not have the tubing to intubate a child of his size so they could not help him effectively. Before this sudden turn for the worse, where they did seek medical treatment, he was not having any signs of anything severe from how the story is being reported by the family. A very different picture than the one painted by CBC, this is why we cannot judge this story based on one biased news report.
Regardless, our kids get sick. You can never know it’s too late until it’s too late. Can you look for signs? Yes. But if your child is coping it is better for them to stay home and move through the infection on their own. If they clearly cannot fight it off themselves then seek medical treatment. It is a fine line that we must all balance. Some reports have said there is no confirmed cause of death, others have suggested viral meningitis, and still others bacterial meningitis. If it had been viral, antibiotics would not have helped this child and actually weakened his defenses. If it was bacterial, it is well known that the timeline is short between signs of a problem and death and those signs are not always clear. Under perfect circumstances you cannot always get to medical care in time with bacterial meningitis.
This family has suffered a loss that no parent wants to suffer. This was a loving family, according to the crown prosecutor. Compounding their loss they are now being tried criminally for their choices. One can only imagine how heart wrenching that would be. Now to throw gas on the fire, people are coming out of the woodwork to call these loving parents murderers. They have received death threats and even threats of rape. The RCMP has suggested that they get police security to protect the family’s safety.
I cannot begin to imagine the nightmare that this family is experiencing. I could choose to judge their decisions and actions or I can choose compassion and understanding and I call on others to do the same.
I believe that this is something that could happen to almost any parent. They could have easily been the parents who took their kid in and been told it’s just a virus, go home and let it run it’s course. It happens every day. At some point you need to make a decision. You cannot know if it’s too late until it’s too late and you don’t want to risk being exposing your already vulnerable child to more and stronger pathogens by running to a medical clinic or hospital at every runny nose or change in body temperature.
It is all about risks and benefits. At some point, the risks of medication outweigh any benefit and at some other point, the risks of going it alone outweigh any benefit. Weighing that balance and seeking alternatives, that often have a better risk to benefit ratio, is not irresponsible. It is actually quite responsible and shows that the parents are trying to make conscious and thought out decisions about their child’s health. They were not being neglectful, they were taking active steps to support their child’s health.
They did seek care from a valid health care provider. A naturopathic doctor is recognized by Canada and the province as a valid health care provider and primary health care doctor under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991. If it was outside the naturopath’s scope of practice they should have referred the child to someone whose scope of practice included this specific issue. But again this was apparently a mild sickness based on symptoms. Not anything that would cause alarm.
May there have been warning signs that the family missed, dismissed, or ignored? Maybe. I wasn’t there, so I can only take the family’s word for it. I can only assume they were working diligently to care for their child.
Medicine is not automatically the right answer, very often it is the wrong answer. The effects of properly prescribed drugs and surgery account for a significant number of deaths in Canada, children being at higher risk than adults. Each time a child is ill you could run to a doctor and risk over medicating and putting their life and health at risk. There is a time and a place for medical intervention. Maybe this situation was that time, but we cannot know if it would have even made a difference. Children die under medical care every day. Medical errors cost lives, yet those care providers are not criminally charged with failure to provide necessities of life to the children under their supervison.
Every decision carries risk and the one they chose didn’t work out. They are the ones hurt by this. They will live with the outcomes of that decision forever. Prosecuting them does nothing good but puts all parents at risk of being liable if you make a parenting decision that goes awry. We make risk:benefit decisions for our children every day. Can they ride a bike, play hockey, do gymnastics, go tobogganing? All decisions carry risk and being criminally responsible for those decisions is a scary thing. Again, it is a matter of assessing benefits and risks in the specific situation. At some point a decision is made in either direction, it appears they made a wrong decision. A precedent in a case like this could be really scary for parents because they will not be safe to make health decisions for their family. Make the wrong decision and you go to prison.
We all are sourcing info by which to make decisions. The info is often biased if it comes from medical sites like the CDC and also biased if it comes from holistic sites. We each need to assess that information for ourselves and make judgement calls. Sometimes the decisions we make end up leading to an undesired outcome. That could be a decision to seek medical care which leads to your child’s death or it could be to seek alternatives which lead to your child’s death. There is no risk free option and no “right” answers. Just decisions and outcomes.
I feel deeply for this family because we had a similar situation with our own child at the same age. My son was 19 months and had a runny nose, no fever, fully functioning and as energetic as always, simply a runny nose. It was Halloween night and we went trick or treating. We went to bed that night and I noticed his breathing was a little labored, nothing he hadn’t previously experienced and recovered from with a cold. Did he react to something he ate or was it simply progression of the mild cold he seemed to have, I don’t know. We watched him carefully to see if it was going to pass. I lay with him all night as he slept, watching to see he was OK. At some point, I felt it was getting worse and too much for him. I felt that if we waited longer he would be in distress so I took him to the hospital. It was where he needed to be as he needed medical treatment. I fully believe that had we waited too much longer he would not have made it. I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time and thankfully we had a good outcome.
I believe this could have very easily gone in another direction. It was 4 am when I left for the hospital. Had I fallen asleep, maybe I would have never known how distressed his breathing got in the night, maybe I would have woken up to a dead baby. I am so very thankful that we cosleep so I was able to be present to see just how much he was struggling.
Had this happened during the day and I had put him down for a nap, I would have never known that his breathing was an issue at all and I could have discovered him in bed not breathing just like Ezekiel’s parents did.
Had we lived further from a hospital, maybe we wouldn’t have made it in time. Had we hit traffic, maybe he wouldn’t have made it to the hospital and died in transit. Had I medicated my child at home, maybe it would have masked his distress and it would have been too late to seek emergency care.
In our situation, we made a choice and had a good outcome. There are many factors that could have altered the timing of that decision. When I arrived at the hospital he was is distress. It progressed quickly.
When I told a family member about what had happened their first reaction was, “You should have gone in sooner.” Really, should I have? Sooner he wasn’t having a problem, sooner he wasn’t in any foreseeable danger or distress. When exactly “should” I have gone in. An hour sooner, 2, 3 the day before when he appeared totally healthy apart from a runny nose? Sooner and we would have been laughed out of the hospital as over vigilant parents.
At some point we need to make a decision. In a perfect world we would always have time on our side but that is not always the case. Could Ezekiel’s family gone in sooner? Maybe. Maybe there would have been no cause for care had they arrived sooner. Or maybe it would have saved his life. We can only know in hindsight and I do not believe these parents should be prosecuted for not having a crystal ball.
What happened to Ezekiel and his family could happen to anyone. Especially if it was bacterial meningitis without clear symptoms. Even with obvious signs, people do not always get care in time. You have 24 hours at best to be treated or death is a likely outcome. This is a family who deeply cared for and loved their child. They wanted him alive and well. They were taking active steps to help him. They ended up victims of time and possibly a series of unfortunate events (the ambulance mishap) or decisions. How can they be held criminally responsible for something they tried to prevent? How can people in our community of fellow parents not see the tragedy of this situation and feel deep sorrow and compassion for this family? They lost the one thing we all fear losing more than anything else, their child. Now the rest of their family may be torn apart if they are forced to serve time in prison. (Note that children’s services has never found their other children to be at risk, they have kept all of their kids because they have been considered good parents).
When observing with the benefit of hindsight we can all say we would have acted differently, made different choices. They didn’t have that advantage when in the moment of crisis with their child. Try to put yourself in their situation; a lost child, parental guilt that will last a lifetime, other children to protect and care for, and now criminal charges. The last thing the need is judgement, vindictiveness, and threats, please show these people some mercy.