Think about all the regulations we have to keep children safe from things that can harm them. We don’t let them drive until they’re 16, they can’t vote for Donald Trump until they’re 18, etc.
And yet, in Alberta, Canada, there’s no law stopping preventing children from seeing naturopaths — fake doctors who prescribe a host of pseudoscientific and alternative “medicines.” The problem isn’t that people see them at all. Adults have every right to throw away their money as they please. The problem is when they take their sick children to see one in lieu of seeing doctors who actually know what they’re doing.
Last month, we heard the story of Ezekiel Stephan. When he was 19-months-old in 2012, he died of meningitis — a disease involving the inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord. It could have been treated with antibiotics or antiviral drugs (though even that was a longshot), but his parents David and Collet Stephan (below) opted for “natural” remedies instead — like water with maple syrup.
The Stephans called a naturopathic practitioner at one point, but she was no help at all:
After a family friend and nurse told the mother [Ezekiel] might have meningitis… Collet purchased an echinacea tincture called “Blast” from a Lethbridge naturopathic clinic. By then the boy was so sick and stiff he couldn’t sit in his car seat.
The naturopath in question denies the specifics of the story, but her testimony has contradicted itself at times. In any case, the point is that no real doctor would ever have approved such a remedy for such a serious problem.
It’s all leading many Albertans to ask whether there should be a law protecting children from fake doctors:
Now, as Ezekiel’s parents stand charged in his death, ethicists and health-policy experts say the case is raising troubling questions about whether naturopaths should be restricted from treating children.
There are provincial bans on indoor tanning beds for minors, as well as bylaws keeping children under 16 out of tattoo parlours “because of possible harm to children,” notes University of Calgary bioethicist and lawyer Juliet Guichon.
“There’s also the consent aspect — that children aren’t mature enough to say no to these outfits,” Guichon said.
The same principles could be applied to naturopathy, she suggested. “If (children) are not mature enough yet to say, ‘Mum, I’m not going to that quack, I need to go to a doctor,’ then there could be an argument for a legal restriction to protect children.”
There’s no reason there couldn’t be a law preventing naturopaths and homeopaths from treating children. A wannabe doctor who practiced on children without a degree would practically be crucified. Having a “degree” from a naturopathic school is hardly any different. If they’re just treating a cough or an ache, it may not be such a big deal. But when we’re talking about a life-threatening disease, alternative medicine practitioners need to get the hell out of the way.
As with any regulation, one fear is that restricting access to these fake doctors wouldn’t prevent parents from seeing them, but rather just take it off the books:
Calgary pediatrician Dr. Ian Mitchell said many people, including parents of young children, have a distrust of conventional medicine “and an almost magical belief that there is some pill or preparation called ‘natural’ that will wipe things away.” But he said restricting naturopaths from seeing children would only drive things underground and discourage parents from telling doctors about natural products they might be using that could have “disastrous” interactions with other medicines.
That’s why parents should also be punished if anything serious happens to their children as a result of their negligence. We’ve seen a similar push in the U.S. with parents who let their kids die because they think prayer will cure whatever problem they have.
We often think of herbal remedies and homeopathic pills as mere placebos, but the effects of alternative medicines can be deadly when used in place of medicine that’s scientifically shown to be effective.
No one’s saying naturopaths can’t practice at all. But they shouldn’t be allowed to deal with children who don’t necessarily have the ability (or knowledge) to reject their suggestions.
(Image via Facebook)