|Photo: Facebook/Prayers for Ezekiel|
But sometimes, sometimes they make an error that is so egregious, so far beyond what any rational, reasonable person would do, that they end up inflicting unforgivable harm upon their children. They stumble into the realm of medical neglect and child abuse. They may still believe that they are not doing anything wrong, that they actually are doing what is best for their child. But those beliefs, nonetheless, result in serious, or even fatal, harm.
Such is the case of David Robert Stephan and his wife, Collet Dawn Stephan, whose negligence resulted in the death of their 18-month-old son, Ezekiel.
You can readily find numerous news reports and blog posts about it. There are also the findings of fact from the case (R v Stephan, 2016 ABQB 319 (CanLII)). The short version is that Ezekiel fell ill on February 27, 2012. Despite worrying symptoms like difficulty breathing, his parents did not take him to a medical professional for examination. Instead, they called a nurse friend and discussed his symptoms over the phone, deciding it was just croup. They gave him water and maple syrup using an eye dropper to increase his fluid intake, along with various supplements.
He continued to have difficulty breathing for nearly a week, and then his symptoms started growing worse. They gave him "apple cider vinegar, onion powder, ginger root, garlic, hot peppers, and horseradish root", but over the next couple of days he started to develop stiffness to the point that his back started to arch. They did not take Ezekiel to a doctor.
They called their nurse friend, who came to their house to examine Ezekiel. She wasn't sure of the issue, but suspected it might be meningitis. She recommended they take Ezekiel to a doctor. Ms. Stephan looked up meningitis on the internet and decided to play-act being a doctor, deciding, in her complete lack of medical training, that Ezekiel must have viral meningitis (note that online medical sources generally recommend calling a doctor if meningitis is suspected). David and Collet decided to treat him with more supplements. They did not take Ezekiel to a doctor.
On March 13, two weeks after first falling ill, the Stephans drove into Lethbridge to sign some purchase documents, taking Ezekiel with them. He was too stiff to sit comfortably in his car seat, so they made up a bed for him in the back of their SUV. They called a naturopath for recommendations to boost Ezekiel's immune system. The receptionist told them to take him to a doctor, but they said they had a nurse friend looking in on him. They dealt with their lawyer, stopped by the naturopath's office to buy a "natural remedy", and then went shopping at Superstore. Superstore has a walk-in clinic attached to it, but they didn't take Ezekiel in. Instead, they headed home with Ezekiel once again lying in the back of the SUV, too stiff to sit in his car seat. They still did not take Ezekiel to a doctor.
I'll quote this next part straight from the findings of fact in the case:
 Mr. Stephan noticed that Ezekiel began to experience irregular breathing, and shortly after Ms. Stephan returned from her meeting, around 9 pm, Ezekiel stopped breathing. Mr. Stephan called his father, and then called 911. Ms. Stephan patted Ezekiel’s back and he started breathing but stopped again shortly after. Ms. Stephan gave Ezekiel a few rescue breaths and he started breathing again.Despite Ezekiel's signs indicating that he was dead by the time the emergency responders arrived, they did not give up on him. They took over CPR and tried to establish an airway, but were unable to for about 8 minutes. Once they reached the hospital, they saw Ezekiel's chest rise and fall. Doctors took over, continuing CPR and giving him intravenous medications and fluids. After about 30 minutes, his heart started beating again. He was ultimately transported to the pediatric intensive care unit at the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. He did not regain consciousness. Two different neurologists examined him on the mornings of March 15 and 16, both determining that he was brain dead. David and Collet Stephan kept him on life support for two more days despite Ezekiel's continued lack of neurological function.
 Mr. Stephan told the 911 operator that an ambulance did not need to be dispatched because Ezekiel was breathing again and they would drive him to the hospital. About 20 minutes later the family left in their vehicle for the Cardston hospital. Ezekiel stopped breathing again and Ms. Stephen performed CPR in the vehicle for a considerable time while Mr. Stephan drove and called 911. The family met the ambulance a few kilometers from Cardston where the ambulance attendants took over Ezekiel’s care. By then Ezekiel was blue.
 When the emergency responders took over Ezekiel’s care he had no pulse or blood pressure, his heart rate was 0, he was not breathing, his respiratory rate was 0, and his Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score was 3, the lowest score possible. The GCS gives an indication of the level of consciousness. He had no eye opening, muscle movement or verbal response. The doctors described this state as being dead.
David Robert Stephan and Collet Dawn Stephan were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life on April 26, 2016.
Not once since their son died have the Stephans acknowledged that they did anything wrong. Instead, they blame the emergency responders for not having the appropriately sized tube to intubate Ezekiel.
The Facebook page Prayer for Ezekiel has posted comments contesting the facts of the case. For example, they posted a portion of a transcript of one of the 911 calls, claiming that Ms. Stephan was able to get air into Ezekiel and that he was breathing again. Yet the transcript shows that Ezekiel was not breathing:
|Photo: Facebook/Prayers for Ezekiel (Click to enlarge)|
Note the faded portions where Collet says he was not breathing.
|Source: Facebook/David Stephan (Click to enlarge)|
|Photo: Facebook/Prayers for Ezekiel (Click to enlarge)|
But the vaccination issue has garnered support for the Stephans. The anti-vaccine community is rallying behind them. Del Bigtree, producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, posted a brief interview with David and Collet on Facebook:
The primary concern appears to be with what this case has meant for David and Collet and other parents who choose to eschew proper medical attention for their sick children, rather than concern for the children themselves. Reasonable people, like the jury who convicted the Stephans, recognize that what they did is reprehensible. Reasonable people focus on the kids. The Stephans, Polly Tommey, Del Bigtree, and the like seem to care more for the parents that neglect and abuse their children.
This is an attitude that is, sadly, quite common among those who opt for so-callled "alternative medicine". Children have rights. They are not the property of their parents. While parents have the right to make medical decisions for their children, those rights are not absolute. What is truly disturbing is how the anti-vaccine community tends to rally behind parents that harm their own children. Anti-vaccine groups like the National Vaccine Information Center and the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network try to excuse child abusers by claiming that shaken baby syndrome is actually vaccine injury, and that the abusers were wrongfully accused. They sympathize with and excuse parents who kill their autistic children. And when a child artfully takes down the anti-vaccine movement, they respond by trying to intimidate and dox him (try being the operative word).
For all that the anti-vaccine movement claims to be about the kids, they really only care for themselves, for their ideology. Will any of them have the courage to stand up and denounce those who harm their children?
As an additional resource, there is a blog that has put up transcripts of the police interviews with David and Collet. The interviews were originally released by CBC News. Note that despite what Mr. Stephan claims in the interview with Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree, Mrs. Stephan admits that Ezekiel was too stiff to sit in his car seat. The interviews also reveal that his symptoms ought to have raised concern and cued his parents to take him to a doctor.