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A Judge Is Forcing These Antivaxxer Parents to Take Their Kids to a Doctor

The Stephans were recently convicted in the death of their son, Ezekiel.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jul 15 2016, 4:00pm

Image: Prayers for Ezekiel/Facebook

An antivaxxer Canadian couple that was convicted after the death of their son from meningitis has been released on bail, but with some unusual requirements. The parents must take their three other children to a medical doctor within two weeks, and follow whatever advice the doctor gives. It's the latest twist in an ongoing battle over whether parents have the right to choose alternative care for their kids—even if it might put them at risk.

The story began back in 2012, when 18-month-old Ezekiel Stephan died after suffering from meningitis. His parents, David and Collet Stephan, are proponents of alternative medicine (David's family owns a multi-million dollar company that sells natural remedies).

Rather than take him to a doctor, they consulted a naturopath and spent two weeks treating him with alternative remedies including hot pepper smoothies and echinacea tinctures.

Eventually, when Ezekiel began to have trouble breathing, they took him to a hospital, but the toddler suffered brain damage and died. Both parents were charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life and, after a trial this spring, found guilty. David was sentenced to four months in jail, while his wife was sentenced to three months of house arrest.

Throughout the trial, the couple has defended their actions and their right to care for their children however they see fit. They blame their son's death on the fact that the ambulance that rushed Ezekiel to the hospital did not have equipment sized for a toddler. After their sentencing, they appealed the ruling—but so did the prosecution, which has claimed the sentencing provided "insufficient weight to denunciation and deterrence."

In light of the two pending appeals, on Thursday a court agreed to grant the couple bail, but it came with a list of unusual requirements, including a trip to a medical doctor. The couple also had to agree to take their children to a licensed doctor, public health nurse, or paramedic (i.e. not a naturopath) if any of the kids get sick.

Read More: We Need to Stop Treating Naturopaths Like They're Medical Doctors

These requirements mirror some unusual aspects of the couple's sentencing. Throughout the trial, the Stephans have garnered support through their Facebook page, Prayers for Ezekiel, where they've argued against court testimony and media reports. Part of the sentencing orders the couple to post "an unedited, accurate copy" of their verdict to their own personal Facebook profiles and the Ezekiel page.

Since the couple is appealing the sentencing, that hasn't happened yet.

It seems clear the Crown (kind of like Canada's version of a district attorney) is trying to make an example of the Stephans—the couple certainly thinks so, and the language of the Crown's appeal suggests they may be right. The special orders in both the sentencing and bail seem to show a clear message to other parents: Your kids need to see a medical doctor once in awhile, and especially if they're sick.