A Canadian couple is on trial for allegedly failing to give their late toddler son adequate medical care when he was infected with meningitis, instead relying on treatments like maple syrup and apple cider vinegar.
David and Collet Stephan, of southern Alberta, pleaded not guilty on Monday to failing to provide the necessaries of life, CBC News reports. Their 19-month-old son, Ezekiel, died of meningitis in March 2012.
Prosecutors say the toddler had fallen ill a couple of weeks earlier, but his parents only called for medical help when Ezekiel stopped breathing. He died in a hospital after five days on life support.
The Stephans had allegedly tried to cure their son earlier with a slew of home remedies that included maple syrup mixed with water and apple cider vinegar, horseradish root, hot pepper, onion, garlic and ginger root, according to the CBC.
Prosecutors played a police interview in which Collet Stephan said that a nurse friend told the couple Ezekiel could have meningitis. The mother said she and her husband had obtained a treatment for meningitis from a “naturopathic doctor” and gave it to their son.
“I’m not saying they killed him, abused him or ignored him -- they loved him,” Crown Prosecutor Clayton Giles said in court Monday, according to the Global News. “They didn’t take him to a doctor until it was too late -- far too late.”
When police first charged the couple in February 2013, David Stephan released a statement to the Calgary Herald, noting that Ezekiel appeared to be improving before his condition quickly deteriorated and he stopped breathing.
“Like any other good parents, we attended to the matter and treated him accordingly to standard practices and recommendations like millions of parents do each year,” he said. Medical responders took 40 minutes after the 911 call to reach Ezekiel and they lacked the necessary equipment to support breathing for a small child, he added.
David Stephan's father, Anthony, told the Herald that Ezekiel had really only been sick for a few days before the couple called doctors. He said the boy only had flu-like symptoms and his parents believed it was just a minor ailment.
Brad Stephan, Ezekiel's uncle, told The Canadian Press that the toddler seemed fine just hours before he stopped breathing. “He was playing with his dad,” he said. “He was eating. Everything seemed good.”
The family runs the supplement company Truehope Nutritional Support, which Anthony Stephan founded in 1996. But Brad Stephan said authorities have incorrectly portrayed them as being against all mainstream medicine.
"We're not anti-establishment or anti-medicine" he told The Canadian Press. "Some people like to paint us with that brush."