On April 26, Albertan couple David and Collet Stephan were found guilty of neglecting their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel Stephan, who died of meningitis in 2012. The defence argued that the parents, who attempted to heal Ezekiel through natural remedies rather than by seeking professional medical help, believed he simply had the flu.
Prosecutor Lisa Weich noted the Stephans had been warned by a registered nurse that Ezekiel likely had meningitis, and additionally that they should have been able to interpret their son’s symptoms as something more serious.
Having been born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, a city known for its Birkenstock-wearing, organic garden-planting, and vegan-eating residents, I’m familiar with the type of people who swear by their home remedies. My own family exists in this circle. For Christmas, my sister once gave me an awful serum that supposedly reduces anxiety, and my mother keeps a bottle of echinacea to treat colds and the flu — the same medicinal mixture that the Stephan parents used — stocked in the medicine cabinet at all times.
I’ve never complained about my family’s alternative health practices because, if need be, we seek professional advice. We have healthy diets, exercise, and yes, take echinacea. When that isn’t enough, we pay the doctor a visit. This is what the Stephan family should have done.
Ultimately doctors are here to treat us, to cure us, and to save us. Why would they want to do anything else?
I have plenty of qualms with the population that favours alternative medicine. Scientists have developed amazing medicines, remedies, and cures, so why do some of us refuse to use them? I understand the distrust in big pharmaceutical companies, and I understand the anger toward powerful higher-ups who care more about their bank accounts than patients (looking at you, Martin Shkreli). Ultimately though, doctors are here to treat us, to cure us, and to save us. Why would they want to do anything else?
It’s foolish to believe otherwise. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says turning to unproven alternative medicine is not the answer to our cynicism about conventional medicine.
Alternative medicines are considered inherently less harmful because they are perceived to be more natural. However, alternative medicine lacks testing. According to doctors Phil Fontanarosa and George Lundberg, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “there is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.”
At worst, these medicines can hurt us. At best, they heal us. Often, they simply do nothing. Such was the case with Ezekiel Stephan.
The world of ‘unproven’ medicine extends beyond one tragic case with a sick child. This is about a generation of children raised without vaccines that have worked for decades because ignorant parents are worried they may cause autism.
This is about children dying of suffocation because parents no longer trust the chemicals in inhalers long-known to treat asthma. We now live in a world where germs, viruses, and bacteria have become increasingly dangerous, and now there’s an entire generation of children whose immune systems are perfect targets.
There is no doubt that David and Collet Stephan loved Ezekiel, but as Weich put it, “sometimes love just isn’t enough.” Ultimately, had the Stephan family sought medical help for their son earlier, he would probably still be alive today.