Calgary boy dies from belief in alternative holistic medicine. Police lay charges.

Calgary police have charged Tamara Sophia Lovett, 44, with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessaries of life  in the death of her 7-year-old son, Ryan. Ms. Lovett was arrested at home Friday Nov. 22, 2013, after police consulted medical experts and the Crown prosecutor’s office. An autopsy revealed that Ryan died as a result of an easily treated Group A Streptococcus infection. Police allege his mother treated him exclusively with with holistic remedies rather than mainstream medicine.

Calgary Police Service Staff Sergeant, Michael Cavilla, is quoted as saying, “It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents. The message is quite simple: If your child is sick, take them to see a doctor.

Somebody must be giving the Calgary Police Service (CPS) clarity pills. We haven’t had that kind of straight, honest talk out of the CPS since, well, actually, I can’t think of a time when we ever had that kind of talk from the CPS. Whatever pill they’re taking, could they please pass some around to the Alberta Ministry of Health and Wellness, Alberta universities, and the Alberta Medical Association? All of these groups actively promote alternative medical quackery and thereby contribute to a system of belief that these alternative practices are effective. Here’s a little more from Sgt. Cavilla; “We have no direct information that religious beliefs factored into this, but there was a belief system and homeopathic medicine did factor in.”

This is the point I have made so many times at AskepticRTN. Complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) doesn’t kill (well, not often anyway), belief in it does. Parents substituting CAM for mainstream medicine are condemning their children to needless suffering and possible disfigurement or death.

Media Perspectives

At least The National Post got this part of the story right. (Thanks Mark for bringing this to my attention.) The Post has tended to be a critic of alternative medical practices and relied heavily on Tim Caufield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. Mr. Caufield has a long history of the kind of clarity recently discovered by the CPS, including a excellent piece on Alberta’s granting regulated status to naturopaths entitled, Don’t legitimize the witch doctors. With regards to Ryan’s case, he is quoted as saying: “We don’t need alternative medicine and conventional medicine. We need science-based medicine. Period.” <Article Here> Of course I couldn’t agree more.

(The downside is that Tim Caufield works at the same University of Alberta that promotes all sorts of CAM quackery. Just recently, Dr. Sunita Vohra,  a pediatrician and professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta was awarded the The Dr. Rogers Prize in Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. The U of A fell over itself in crowing about this achievement describing the prize as ‘prestigious’ although it failed to mention prestigious to whom. Rather than prestigious, the Dr. Rogers Prize is little more than the promotion of snake oil here.)

The Calgary Herald and the CBC, both of which have never met a brand of alternative medical quackery they didn’t love, sought out different perspectives on the story. Calgary Herald reporter, Sherri Zickefoose, largely ignored the CAM/Mainstream Medicine controversy. Instead, the article emphasized what a great mom Ms. Lovett is reported to be and the shock of the family in learning she had been charged. Ms. Zickefoose quotes Ms. Lovett’s father as saying, “She devoted her life to that child.” I’m sure that’s true and I truly sympathize with Ms. Lovett. It’s just that I sympathize with Ryan more.

If you are at all curious what it must be like to be the child whose parents are using CAM practices at the expense of mainstream medicine, I would encourage readers to pick up a copy of, In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide. A warning though, the descriptions by pathologists of the pain and suffering endured by these children are disturbing and just plain sickening. In my opinion, no reporter should be allowed to write a story on the medical rights of parents versus their children without reading this book first.

The CBC had a similar perspective to that of The Calgary Herald <here>. It also added comment from Juliet Guichon, a medical ethicist at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine. Ms. Guichon explained that this case highlights the legal responsibility of parents to keep their kids safe and healthy stating, “What the reasonably prudent person would have done is the standard. So does this person (Ms. Lovett) fall below the reasonably prudent standard?”  It may be just me, but compare the clarity of Ms. Guichon with that of Staff Sergeant Michael Cavilla  who, to repeat, said: “The message is quite simple: If your child is sick, take them to see a doctor.”  I’m no expert on what medical ethicists actually do, or what their area of expertise is, but assuming it isn’t obfuscation, I know of a Staff Sergeant at the CPS that would probably make a damn good medical ethicist.

These are only allegations

All we have at this point are police allegations that have yet to be proved in court. Did Tamara Sophia Lovett withhold the necessaries of life from her son Ryan? We don’t know. We may never know. Legal processes are now in play and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

But we do know the CPS has sent a strong signal of its willingness to charge parents using alternative medical practices at the expense of mainstream medicine. Good for them. That’s one large step in the right direction.

And shame on Alberta’s universities, the Alberta Medical Association, and the Health Ministry, for their seemingly endless promotion of the kind of quackery that causes so much pain and suffering. Perhaps Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne, for one, could stop claiming that naturopathy practices are effective and sit down and read a good book instead. In the name of god, I’ve got one in mind.







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  1. Pat Harty’s avatar

    Great article. I know people who practice this type of stuff. It’s amazing how a smart, educated, person can fall for such obvious snake oil.

    Parents are expected to teach their children morals and basic beliefs, but the line where the parent starts to hurt the child with their beliefs is very fuzzy.

    My initial knee-jerk reaction to lock her up forever has changed as I think about the situation. I know ignorance isn’t a defense, but if she’s like any other mother, she agonized with her child and was doing what she thought was right. And the death of her child likely devastated her. If the mother gets an education in what quackery is, how to detect it, and how to think critically in general, she might become a great mother and a positive part of society.

    If there was ever a local situation that demonstrated the need to educate all the citizens of the world in critical thinking skills, this is it.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. askeptic’s avatar

    Thanks. I truly appreciate your comment. I agree with you on locking someone up for life over this. On the other hand, far more often than reflect, there is a tendency to dig in one’s heals and claim the world is against you. In any case we shall see what happens. The tragedy is a young person died from the ignorance of their parent.

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