David and Collet Stephan could face up to five years in prison for treating their son with natural remedies rather than taking him to a doctor.
The Canadian couple is being tried for failure to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, who died of meningitis in 2012. The couple was then investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which asserted the boy should have been taken to the hospital much sooner. The investigation took nearly a year until charges were filed, and the trial began this month.
“Whatever’s going on here stinks,” David’s brother, Brad Stephan, told The Canadian Press. “I don’t see anybody else getting charged for having meningitis. I almost have to wonder if we don’t have an officer somewhere or someone just acting overzealous … We just feel this is just really over the top and we’re not understanding why.”
The parents say Ezekiel had fallen ill and that they treated it with all-natural remedies, and that he seemed to be getting better until he stopped breathing.
Upon learning of the charges, the father told The Calgary Herald, “There’s nothing in the world that will bring him back. What good could possibly come out of this?
“What could possibly be worse than the suffering we’ve endured for the past year?”
The couple has three other small children.
RCMP spokesman Corporal Darrin Turnbull told Canadian media that “the parents knew the child became ill in February” of 2012 “and that “it wasn’t until March 13 when the child stopped breathing that they activated the health system.”
But the family disputes that claim.
“They didn’t see the need at the front end because the boy really wasn’t that ill,” said Ezekiel’s grandfather, Anthony Stephan, who operates Truehope Natural Support, a company that sells all-natural medical supplies.
The father described the symptoms as flu-like and told the National Post, “We don’t always go to the doctor immediately. If it persists we do, absolutely.”
Shortly before the boy stopped breathing, Anthony Stephan said, Ezekiel “was playing with his dad. He was eating. Everything seemed good.”
David Stephan is alleging that a slow response from Alberta Health Services – the agency that administers Canada’s national health insurance system in the province – may have contributed to Ezekiel’s death.
“We took it upon ourselves to meet the dispatched ambulance halfway on the highway,” David Stephan said in a statement to the press. “It took approx. 40 minutes from the initial 911 call before he was in the care of the attending EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). When EMT finally arrived, the ambulance was not equipped with the correct intubation equipment for our son, who could not breathe on his own.”
Eventually, doctors took the boy off of life support.
The Stephans live in Glenwood, a small town in southern Alberta. David Stephan claims that there was an ambulance based five minutes from his home that had the proper equipment but it was never dispatched. Instead, EMTs who lacked equipment were sent from another town, he says.
“The EMTs who attended have indicated to us that they have been frustrated for some time prior to this tragic event, because they have been after Alberta Health Services to no avail to properly equip their ambulances with the proper intubation equipment for small children, the same equipment needed that tragic night,” David Stephan alleged.
Anthony Stephan rejected charges that his family was against medicine or the system. He also said the family uses the province’s health insurance system.
“If there’s any insinuation that they were withholding care from the child, it’s absolutely wrong,” Anthony Stephan said. “If they took a look at our records with Alberta health care, they’re going to see that we use the system.”
The court case against the Stephans is expected to wrap up within weeks. David and Collet have pled not guilty.
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