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TOWHEY: Justice finally for Ezekiel’s beleaguered parents

Ezekiel Stephan was just 19-months old when he died at a Calgary hospital on March 16, 2012. It was a tragedy that captured the nation’s attention. But, it was never a crime.

His parents, David and Collet Stephan, were criminally charged in his death. Convicted by a jury in 2016, they appealed and lost. They appealed again, to the Supreme Court, which set aside their verdict and ordered a new trial. That new trial concluded Thursday, with an acquittal. Not guilty.

This judge made the right call.

The Stephan case was controversial from the beginning. The parents believe strongly in “natural therapies” and “home remedies.” Ezekiel was never vaccinated against common childhood ailments and he contracted meningitis — something a vaccine likely would have prevented.

Public opinion ran pretty strongly against the parents. How horrible were these people who refused to take their dying toddler to a physician and fed him horseradish instead? Surely a quick visit to the doctor would have saved young Ezekiel’s life!

After Ezekiel’s death, his father was booked to appear at a series of natural health shows. Canadians erupted in outrage. How dare he profit from this?

David and Collet Stephan leave court in Lethbridge on Thursday, September 19, 2019 after being acquitted in the second trial of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel. Kevin Martin / Postmedia

But, truth is not always so obvious. The judge pointed this out in his verdict.

I have to agree.

First, let’s be clear. My kids have had all their shots. I believe it’s idiotic not to side with science on immunization. Vaccines save lives. Period.

I also think most “natural remedies” are quackery. I will always take my health care from a medical professional. I confess to looking with disdain at those who would rather warm rocks, sip tinctures, or lay on hands. I’m big on modern western medicine. But, who’s to say I’m right?

Medicine is as much art as science. Years ago, in Mozambique, I was prescribed one pill a week to prevent malaria. Mefloquine, it was called. Side affects, sure. But, “better than malaria” was the medical consensus in Canada. Not so, the European physicians in Africa who were aghast at my weekly pills. Not all doctors agree on all things. Science is sometimes wrong.

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But, at the heart of my support for Ezekiel Stephan’s parents is my fundamental belief that they are the best arbiters of what’s good for their children. All parents make mistakes. Some of us are idiots. But, none of us would intentionally allow harm to come to our kids.

I don’t believe Ezekiel’s parents wanted to hurt him. They weren’t standing on principal. I have no doubt they did what they thought best for him. There is no evidence otherwise. That they may have been wrong, seems obvious now. But, that doesn’t make them criminals. That makes them human.

If we can force Ezekiel’s parents to take him to a physician or undergo a treatment when they don’t think it’s necessary — what’s stopping you from forcing my kids to undergo a painful course of treatments that I don’t believe is worth the suffering? There’s a line between those two extremes somewhere. But, who gets to draw it?

At the end of the day, the law gives parents that responsibility. We take it away at our peril.

Some of us are great parents. Some, downright awful. But, you know who’s definitely not better than me at raising my kids? The crew of petty partisan politicians who make our laws, while taunting each other in the House of Commons like drunk preschoolers.