This week Belgian judge Mieke Butstraen sentenced two parents to a suspended six-month jail sentence over the death of their seven-month-old baby Lucas. The couple owned a health food store in Beveren and fed the child vegetable milk made of "oak, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa," according to the BBC. He died weighing nine pounds, which is at least seven pounds underweight according to CDC numbers, and had organs that shrunk to half their normal size.
The conviction comes after a series of cases that put vegan parenting in international headlines. After his ex-wife forced their child to eat vegetarian, a father took her to an Italian court in May 2015. Two other Italian parents lost custody of their 14-month old last June over their child's vegan diet. Fatebenfratelli Hospital's doctors believed the baby lacked fundamental nutrients, worsening his unrelated congenital heart condition, but the couple refused to follow doctors' orders and diversify his food.
Experts believe it's difficult to feed an infant a balanced vegan diet. "It is possible to feed a baby a vegan diet, but you need to plan carefully to ensure the baby is getting enough nutrients of concern," the British Nutrition Foundation's Dr. Lucy Chambers previously told Broadly. "The risks of nutrient deficiencies are much higher [on a vegan diet]. It is possible to feed a baby a healthy, balanced diet that is also vegan, but you need to be very well informed."
The latest veggie parents' defense attorney, Karine Van Meirvenne, argued that the family's story was more complicated. The mother failed to lactate, but when offered milk formula, they said the baby declined, so they presumed he was lactose or gluten intolerant.
CBS News reported that the father, identified as Peter S during the case, offered a contradictory statement in court: "We never went with Lucas to a doctor because we never noticed anything unusual." Prosecutors allege that the couple traveled across the country to see a homeopathic specialist, a.k.a. a natural doctor, and neither a social worker nor a regular doctor had ever seen Lucas.
Lawmakers have increasingly grown wary of parents seeking alternative health care for children; California legislators battled conspiratorial anti-vaxxers when they passed a law revoking religious and personal exemptions for vaccinations in 2015. Most parents have good intentions for their kids. Lucas's mother, Sandrina V, insisted to the court, "Sometimes he gained a little weight, sometimes he lost a little. We never wished for the death of our son."
Some worry that these convictions are indicative of a terrifying future of policing every aspect of parenting, especially at a time when women are being imprisoned for miscarrying. But the Belgian judge gave a stark reminder that whatever a parents' intentions, they are ultimately responsible for their child's health and wellbeing.
"The [death was the] result of the systematic offer of food which was not suitable," he argued. "His health was seriously impeded, and he eventually died."