Experts say the trial of a woman who turned to holistic medicine before the death of her seven-year-old son is likely to reignite a debate over the use of natural and alternative treatments.
Tamara Lovett, 47, is charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life and with criminal negligence causing the death of Ryan Alexander Lovett.
Her trial is set to begin in Calgary on Monday.
Ryan died in March 2013 after getting a strep infection that kept him bedridden for 10 days. An autopsy revealed the boy died as a result of a Group A streptococcus infection.
Police say the Calgary woman called for help early in the morning on March 2, 2013, fearing her son was suffering a seizure. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
They have alleged Lovett chose to treat the bacterial infection with homeopathic herbal remedies instead of taking her son to a doctor.
"In the short term, these cases may polarize the debate and lead to a further entrenchment for the true believers," said Tim Caulfield, research director of the University of Alberta's Health Law and Science Policy Group.
"However, over the long term, I am hopeful they will help the broader public debate."
Police say there's no record of the boy ever being taken to a doctor for annual checkups or any treatment.
Investigators say the woman's friends were worried about the child's health and urged her to take him to a physician.
"The cases are a very dramatic and sad statement that we should not put personal beliefs about pseudo-science over the interests and welfare of children," said Caulfield.
It's not the first time in 2016 the issue of natural medicine and the death of a child have been before the courts. In April, David and Collet Stephan were found guilty by a jury in Lethbridge, Alta., of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their 19-month-old son Ezekiel.
The couple treated Ezekiel with smoothies containing hot peppers, onions and horseradish when he became ill. He died of bacterial meningitis in hospital. A number of people, including a nurse who was a family friend, recommended the parents take Ezekiel to a doctor.
The Stephans, who are appealing, argued their conviction set a dangerous precedent in Canada, because if "we do not fall in line with parenting as seen fit by the government, we all stand in risk of criminal prosecution."
One step further
University of Calgary bioethicist Juliet Guichon said the law should go one step further and hold friends and family members accountable in a child's death.
"The legal system requires citizens to alert child welfare that a child is in danger. Citizens just have to call 911 and they can do so anonymously," she said.
"Perhaps the police will find evidence that someone had reasonable and probable grounds to believe that the child was in need of intervention and yet did not report this information. If so, then will charges be laid against that person for failing to report the child needed help?"
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