I was a lucky kid

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Canadian couple, the Stephans, who were convicted of letting their two year old son die of meningitis because they were so committed to their willful ignorance.

Because sitting back and doing nothing while your child dies of meningitis is considered unacceptable in most civilized societies, a jury in Canada just convicted a mother and father of failing to provide for their 2-and-a-half-year-old son when he became deathly ill four years ago. Maybe you remember this story: David and Collet Stephan are religious fundamentalists who own a company called Truehope Nutritional Support, which sells natural, homeopathic remedies and nutritional supplements. Not surprisingly, the Stephans favor homeopathic remedies over ones that, you know, actually work, and when their son Ezekiel came down with meningitis they tried to cure him by feeding him “water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horseradish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root.” This nonsense cocktail was supposed to boost his immunity. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

That’s right. It didn’t work. Ezekiel died. Their defense at trial consisted of pleading ignorance — they didn’t know how sick their feverish, rigid, screaming child was — and, unbelievably, that it was the fault of the ambulance that finally picked up their dying child. They haven’t learned a thing. David Stephan was whining on facebook about it.

Dear Jury,

I deeply Love each one of you and appreciate the tremendous sacrifice that you have made over the last 8 weeks. I only wish that you could’ve seen how you were being played by the crowns deception, drama and trickery that not only led to our key witnesses being muzzled, but has also now led to a dangerous precedent being set in Canada. The flood gates have now been opened and if we do not fall in line with parenting as seen fit by the government, we all stand in risk of criminal prosecution. Remember what the crown prosecutors closing remarks were to combat the fact that the ill equipped ambulance resulted in Ezekiel’s brain death. She communicated that this was not about him dying, but rather about whether or not his life was endangered at any point due to our actions. How many parents have lost children for various reasons, all of which could be concluded that the child’s life was endangered and that the parents should have been able to foresee it? How many parents have had close calls to losing a child, wherein it could be concluded that the child’s life was endangered and the parents should have been able to foresee it? Whether medical attention is sought or not and your child lives, it is of no consequence. It is only about whether or not it can be proven that at some point your child’s life was endangered, and if so you may find yourselves in the same boat as us.
The flood gates have now been opened and my main concern is no longer for Collet and I, but rather for Canadian’s as a whole.

May Heaven help us all!

Aww, you can’t blame them for not being able to foresee that Ezekiel’s condition was deadly dangerous! Except, of course, that they did know that he was extremely sick with severe symptoms — so sick that they were stuffing him with every magic herb they could find on the shelf, and they drove him to a naturopathic clinic to get him a dose of…echinacea. Jebus.

I’ve been in Ezekiel’s shoes, roughly. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I came down with what my parents thought was the flu…only it kept going, and it kept getting worse, with my fever going up and up. I remember it was so bad that I started drifting in and out of consciousness, which was weird — to be lying down in the house one moment, then next thing I’m lying down on a car seat, and then I’m at my grandparents’ house (the other kids were being dropped off), and then my mother holding me while Dad was doing some white-knuckle driving. I also remember how terrified my parents looked.

I’m sure the Stephans were also terrified and wanted the best for their painfully ill son.

But here’s the difference: my parents weren’t rushing me to the naturopathic clinic, but to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and immediately trundled into surgery (well, almost immediately — I also remember vomiting explosively all over the hospital lobby, which may have helped expedite a response).

Another difference: I lived. Ezekiel died.

But the difference wasn’t that my parents loved me more than Ezekiel’s parents did him: loving someone harder and wishing them well with all the fervency in the world doesn’t help. It’s what you do with that love that matters, that you use that love to do what is right and good for others, that you use reason and rational action to keep the love alive.

So I was lucky to have parents who tried to do what was objectively best for me, and weren’t more interested in propping up their ideology or their religion or their pseudoscience with my life — which is actually a rather low bar for someone to hurdle, but it’s obvious that there are quite a few people who can’t manage to clear it.

Thanks, Mom, for being both caring and sensible.


  1. tariqata says

    I’m usually a lurker here, but have a similar story. When I was about six, I came down with a nasty stomach bug, which my parents at first treated with the usual home remedies – flat ginger ale, crackers, lots of rest. After a day or so, I told my mom that I couldn’t see the TV. I vaguely remember that. I don’t remember her throwing me and my baby sister in the car and driving frantically to the nearest hospital – she calculated that it would be faster to go straight to the ER then wait for the ambulance to be dispatched (we lived in a remote town). Apparently I lost consciousness in the car, and the nurses literally grabbed me from her arms to start getting me hooked up to IV fluids. The week I spent in the hospital was miserable, but I’m grateful that my mom knew when it was time for real medical care.

    I’ve been following these kinds of stories for a long time and they’re always tragic, but as a new mom myself now, Ezekiel Stephan’s story hurts in a really visceral way. I look at my son and I can’t imagine the world without him, or understand how a parent could watch their child suffering so much and remain convinced that they’re helping him.

  2. SqueakyVoice says

    Letting them die: parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ


    Unfortunately, this story is worse in some states of the US. The child killers won’t even be prosecuted.

  3. andyo says

    He is sounding like a complete douchebag, but might it be that they are in complete denial and just can’t accept the possibility that they killed their son? I don’t know what to feel toward this pair.

  4. raven says

    but might it be that they are in complete denial

    Probably not, although it is possible.
    I’ve found a number of faith healing families that have killed not one but two of their small children. I found one family that had 5 family members die of treatable condtions, 2 adults and 3 children.
    The child mortality rate in faith healing cults is 25% or so, higher than most of the Third World and 50 times the normal people rate, 0-18.

    They know faith healing doesn’t work. They love their monster god more than they love their children. It’s also eerie how they are detached from their children and their children’s death. I don’t understand that at all.

  5. says

    As a child I almost died at chronic tonsilitis, which demonstrated itself with acute outbursts at three week intervals for over two years. It should not be lethal – the acute outbursts were easily treated with antibiotics and taking my tonsils out after it was more than clear it is a chronic condition would solve the problem straigthaway.

    Unfortunately our pediatrician was uncompetent and instead of sending me to tonsilectomy (“it might lead to asthma later in his life” she said), she tried to help by giving me low doses of antibiotics even between the acute oubreaks. Even at that time (~30 years ago) this was dumb and a sign of an uncompetent physician. I did not know this of course, but I resented her all the same because whenever we were visiting her she was at first always more interested in chit-chat than in my condition.

    My parents are blue-collar job people, none of them have higher education and no medical training. They were doing their best to follow the advices of our physician, and they were getting more and more desperate as it did not help. I was not growing for almost two years, I was feelbe, I had not physical strength and it is a miracle I did not sustain brain damage from high fevers (or maybe I did, which is disquieting…).

    Luckily for me, one day they had to call in an emergency, and that did bring another doctor to our house and on my case. One who carefully explained that the low doses of antibiotics do not achieve anything except slighly poisoning me (I already acquired allergy to pennicilin) and helping the bacteria becomming resistant. One who carefully explained that tonsilectomy, despite its risks, is the only way to save my life. One who asked my parents why the did not insist on tonsilectomy already and who accepted their exasperated explanation that they were following doctors orders and are not qualified to question her judgements.

    I was sent for tonsilectomy, I began to grow again and I lived unhappily ever after.

    Despite this experience, I and my parents do follow our doctors instructions to this very day, although I acquired education high enough to evaluate to some degree whether the instructions are actually competent and whether it would be advisable to get second opinion.

    And to this day we all promote this:
    It is not good for amateurs to second-guess the opinions of professionals in their fields. You might have bad luck (like I did) and you might encounter an incompetent professional. You might get lucky and guess better than the professional. But both those options are insignificant when compared tho the odds of the professional knowing more than you do and doing the best possible thing.

  6. kimberlyherbert says

    I had a Great Aunt and Uncle who were christian scientists. They must have been unusual for that group, because their kids got medical care. Aunt and Uncle said that they had made a decision for themselves, and their kids could make their own decision when they turned 18. In the meantime they got standard medical care for the time – their kids were born mid 1930’s. If they hadn’t their son probably would have died of asthma in childhood.

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    It seems they could be blaming themselves. for not loving their son enough. Not for refusing medical intervention. That if they loved him more then Gawd would have healed him.
    It’s easy to see this as the message being propagated by all the televangelists: prayer solves everything. Got a problem .. , pray harder.

    That they are being punished for some other misdeed, may also be tormenting their conscience.

  8. numerobis says

    I think the key thing that sent them to jail is that the naturopaths and midwives and etc they consulted all recommended going to the hospital — and instead of doing that they sought out other naturopaths.

  9. grumpyoldfart says

    When religious people get really close to god they sometimes regard themselves as god’s little helpers; taking an interest in the universe and assisting god in the decision making process.

    In extreme cases they assume that god has the power to decide who lives and who dies and therefore, since they are so close to the Almighty, they have the right to make similar decisions for the people over whom they have control.

    Sometimes their victims live. Sometimes they die. The end result is of no consequence. The important thing is that the religious people now have proof that they are, indeed, god-like.

    And their decisions must always be right – because god would not let them make the wrong decision. Those who die were meant to die. C’est la vie

  10. quatguy says

    Throw the fucking parents in jail and let them rot. They have other children that are clearly still at risk. Woo kills.

  11. says

    The apologetics thrown around in the comments are disgusting. One is going on about how “Would you prosecute a parent for being hit by a drunk driver and their child dying? Mistakes happen” while another swallows the pill that the abulance drivers are *really* to blame because they didn’t have the gear to give Oxygen to a baby. Whilse ignoring that the reason the child needed that kind of care was they ignored the illness for over two weeks.

    Its just… Depressing.

    Of course, linked in there was an article about the Idaho situation, where those parents who do the same thing are shielded from police and courts.

    just… ugh

  12. ck, the Irate Lump says

    I just hope this case isn’t used as a justification for introducing one of those idiotic “parental rights”/”religious freedom”-type laws in Canada that many U.S. states have.

  13. Siobhan says

    I’ll repeat here what I said in my coverage of this event:

    They lived in a province with socialized medicine. It would have in fact been cheaper for them to take their kid to the hospital than shell out for so-called naturopathic treatment. It would have cost them the gas to get there.

  14. numerobis says

    ck@12: I highly doubt the NDP government of Alberta or the Liberal government of Canada is at all interested in shielding god-bothering naturopathic snake-oil salespeople from their mistakes.

  15. says


    Regarding relying on ONE doctor’s advice……
    Diabetes is a disease where treatment may vary quite a bit depending on whether you are going to a general practitioner or an endocrinologist. Also too many undiagnosed type 1 kids are dying due to lack of doing a simple blood sugar check.

  16. wzrd1 says

    Orac wrote about this when the parents were convicted. Currently, they’re awaiting sentencing and hopefully, that rant will be taken into account during sentencing.
    It’s actually worse than you’ve described. They were unable to get the child into the car seat, his neck so stiff and distended that he couldn’t sit in a car seat, so they laid him on the seat of the car and drove about to pick up their woo cure, which was dispensed at the “clinic”.

    As far as this grandfather is concerned, lock them up until proton decay is well established in the universe.

  17. gijoel says

    The worst thing about this is that these idiot parents will never acknowledge their guilt, because their imaginary friend has already forgiven them.

  18. lesherb says

    Just out of curiosity, do these “woo”, natural, organic, faith healing bozos use essential oils or prayer to protect their computers from viruses?

  19. Trickster Goddess says

    ck@12: Any such law would not withstand a constitutional challenge, as courts have already ruled that parents withholding treatment because of their religious beliefs violates the religious freedom of the child. As one judge put it: you are free to die for your beliefs, but you cannot make someone else die for your beliefs.

    kimberlyherbert’s Great Aunt and Uncle had it right.

  20. Becca Stareyes says

    One is going on about how “Would you prosecute a parent for being hit by a drunk driver and their child dying? Mistakes happen”

    Depends on if they were following the laws like ‘put your kid in the carseat’* and ‘don’t let your kid ride in the back of an open pickup truck’. Accidents happen, but there’s a certain level of willful ignorance that amounts to negligence in the face of a sometimes-hostile world. No one expects that kids won’t get sick, but they expect that if you have care of children, you provide regular medical coverage and take them to the hospital before things get this bad.

    * And even then, if their kid was out of the carseat because they couldn’t afford one, rather than believing that carseats were against their religion, I’d be a lot more inclined to be sympathetic.

  21. says

    A lot of people have similar stories, which makes the Stephans look even worse worse. My own parents handled it correctly. I was four, and remember hardly any of this (or anything else at all for almost two years after). So this is a second-hand account: my brother had been taking care of me in the night. When morning came he woke up the parents. My father looked at me and scooped up blankets and kid and headed out the door while my mother called the hospital. It was meningitis, they thought. Today I am hard of hearing and have some physical challenges, but I might not be here at all if they did anything else than what they did.

  22. marinerachel says


    Yep, getting that kid to a GP would have been free. Taking that kid to hospital wouldn’t have cost anything.

    I read these jagoffs have fled to Nelson, BC. The only reason I left Nelson was no one there vaccinates their kids or takes them to the doctor. The doctors are there. The hospitals are there. The community is just extremely alt-med and I didn’t feel safe having a baby there and then raising a kid who would, every day, all day, be surrounded by unvaccinated people.

    I loved living in Nelson. The summers are hot. The winters are cold. Fall is the prettiest season though. You’re surrounded by mountains and river. You’re hiking or biking or SUPing or swimming or snowboarding every weekend, at least. The city has everything you need but only 10,000 people (think 60,000 when you include the surroundings that feed into it) so the downtown is small and old but beautifully restored. There’s an airport thirty minutes away if you need to get to Kelowna or Vancouver or Victoria. I loved my life there. I’m just so resentful it’s been overrun by trust fund kids who are so privileged they don’t even believe serious illness can touch them and their children.

  23. says

    You know what’s even more impressing than rushing your child to the doctor so they get life-saving help*? Your child not getting sick because they’re vaccinated!

    *Though you cannot vaccinate against some things, of course. Some forms of meningitis? Absolutely!

  24. parrothead says

    One trip to an actual doctor and the child would have lived. One fucking trip. But no. Blame everyone else to hide the fact that you sat there and watched your child die while a whole world of science-based medicine was there waiting to save him. It makes me sick.

  25. wzrd1 says

    @Giliell, the shame of this case is, there is no vaccine. The kid had a plain SA infection, which managed to migrate to his brain.
    In this specific instance, a straightforward course of antibiotics would’ve eliminated the bacteria and this entire conversation wouldn’t have happened.
    I have no empathy toward those creatures. They’ve lost standing as humans in my view.

  26. rrhain says

    “The flood gates have now been opened and if we do not fall in line with parenting as seen fit by the government, we all stand in risk of criminal prosecution.”

    I’m sorry, you seem to be under the impression that because you’re the parents, you get to do anything you want. That isn’t how it works. You do not have the right to kill your child. Indeed, if you do not fall in line with parenting as seen fit by the government, you should risk criminal prosecution. That you don’t think you put your child in danger doesn’t mean you didn’t and it certainly isn’t a justification for abandoning the laws against child endangerment. If you want to argue over where the line is drawn, by all means go ahead. Let’s not pretend that this has anything to do with “big, bad government.”

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    rrhain 328 has a point.
    One of the parameters I have that describes a responsible adult is to make your decision, and live with the consequences thereof. The alleged “parents”, made their decision, but don’t want to live with consequences of their decision. I don’t consider them functional adults, just delusional fools.