Calgary police have now charged a woman in the death of her 7-year-old son, who they allege died after she tried to treat his strep infection with holistic remedies.
Tamara Sophia Lovett, 44, is charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life. Police say her son, Ryan, was bedridden for 10 days before being taken to hospital when he had a seizure. He was pronounced dead shortly after.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a legal requirement for a parent or guardian to provide the necessaries of life, which are defined by the courts as food, shelter, care and medical attention necessary to sustain life and protection from harm.
"If you do not provide medical attention to your sick child, you will be held accountable," Staff Sgt. Mike Cavilla said at a press conference Friday afternoon.
However, the accused's father says he doesn't believe she would willingly put her son at risk, and that the family had no idea she was under investigation.
"The fact is she would never do anything to harm him," said Donn Lovett. "She would have considered all of that in what she was doing."
Ryan had flesh-eating infection, says grandfather
Despite the details released by police, Lovett says his grandson fell ill with flu-like symptoms on a Monday, showed some improvement mid-week and died Saturday morning.
He says his daughter adored her son and the charges came as a shock to the whole family.
"She's having to relive the incident now," Lovett said. "We have been pulling her out of the blackness slowly for months and months and months."
Police allege the victim's mother ignored pleas from friends to seek medical treatment for Ryan.
"There were a number of people that had contact with the child during the period of illness," said Cavilla. "These people did approach the mother and suggested that she do take him to see a medical professional."
Juliet Guichon, a medical ethicist and an assistant professor in the University of Calgary's Faculty of Medicine, says it's not uncommon for the medical profession to run into parents who don't believe in conventional treatments.
Guichon says this highlights the legal responsibility parents have to keep their kids safe and healthy.
"What the reasonably prudent person would have done is the standard," explained Guichon. "So does this person fall below the reasonably prudent standard?"
Strep infections are caused by a bacteria that can usually be treated by antibiotics such as penicillin.
Police have not confirmed at this point whether the boy's strep infection was strep throat or necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as the flesh-eating bacteria.
However, Donn Lovett says his grandson had the flesh-eating bacteria.
Cavilla said he hopes Ryan's death serves as a wake-up call to parents.
"It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents and the message is quite simple — if your child is sick, take them to see a doctor."
Necessaries vs. necessities
While the charge is commonly referred to colloquially as 'failing to provide the necessities of life,' the actual name of the specific charge under Section 215 of the Criminal Code of Canada is 'failing to provide the necessaries of life.' This is not a typo.