LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — The jury in the case of an Alberta couple charged in the meningitis death of their toddler son will begin a second day of deliberations today.
David Stephan, 32, and Collet Stephan, 35, are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life to 19-month-old Ezekiel in 2012.
The four-man, eight-woman jury deliberated for about five hours Monday before retiring for the night.
In his charge to the jury, Justice Rodney Jerke told them to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt and not to make their decisions based on "sympathy, prejudice or fear.''
Ezekiel Stephan died in 2012. (Photo: Prayers for Ezekiel/Facebook)
The couple testified they believed that Ezekiel had croup or flu, so they treated him for 2 1/2 weeks with remedies that included hot peppers, garlic, onions and horseradish.
He eventually stopped breathing and died a couple of days after being rushed to hospital.
The defence argued the couple were loving, responsible parents who simply didn't realize how sick the little boy was. The Crown said they didn't do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical treatment he required, noting they had been warned by a friend who was a registered nurse that the boy likely had meningitis.
Debate over natural medicine
The case has drawn international attention, due in part because of the societal divide between those who do and don't believe in the natural medicine movement.
A website called "Stand 4 Truth'' has been providing daily updates on the trial and comes with a link allowing people to donate to a fund for the couple.
"In the event of a guilty verdict, the Stephans' children will likely be separated from them for up to five years,'' said one recent post.
"They will have permanent criminal records and will likely never have the opportunity to provide adequately for their family when they do get out of prison.''
Truehope Nutritional Support
David Stephan declined comment Monday, but he told The Canadian Press in an interview before the trial that he believed he and his wife were charged because they didn't vaccinate their children and, in part, because his family helped start a nutritional supplements company.
His father, Anthony Stephan, co-founded Truehope Nutritional Support in Raymond, Alta., in 1996 after his wife committed suicide.
The company's website says the woman and some of the couple's 10 children had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so Anthony Stephan formed the company with a friend to find a natural treatment.
The company says one of their products, EMPowerplus, helps treat bipolar disorder, depression and even autism.
Truehope fought to be able to sell EMPowerplus for more than a decade before an Alberta judge ruled that it could be sold here as a drug. It's now shipped to more than 100 countries.
Father still against vaccinations
David Stephan, a Truehope vice-president, said he heard so many stories from parents about vaccinations causing autism in their children that he and his wife decided they wouldn't vaccinate their own kids.
He said that still held true for their three remaining boys — eight-year-old Ezra, three-year-old Ephraim and one-year-old Enoch.
"We're actually more adamant than we ever were,'' he said in the pre-trial interview, adding they are a typical, loving family — not criminals.
"If everybody could see it from exactly how we saw it, they would have a full understanding and be like, 'Oh wow, you were basically blindsided and didn't understand what was really going on.' ''
The maximum penalty for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.
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Your newborn should get this shot even before leaving the hospital, and receive another dose at one to two months and a third at six to 18 months. The vaccine protects against an incurable, liver-infecting virus, hepatitis B, which can be passed to a baby during childbirth if the mother is infected. This virus spreads through contact with blood or other body fluids (sharing toothbrushes and utensils can put you at risk). Soreness at the site of the shot, or a slight fever, is the most common side effect, according to Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
The DTaP vaccine protects against diphtheria (a germ that can form a gray or black film in the throat), tetanus (an infection that can cause muscle spasms so strong they can break bones), and pertussis (a highly contagious disease that causes a severe, uncontrollable cough, known as whooping cough). Five vaccine doses are given to children at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and four to six years. (And boosters at age 11 or 12 and then every 10 years.) DTaP may be combined with other vaccinations to reduce the number of shots needed. "Now, it's DTaP with hepatitis B and the polio vaccine. So, it's five in one," Dr. Gold-von Simson says.
This combo shot protects against three viruses: measles (which causes high fever and a body-wide rash); mumps (which causes face pain, swelling of the salivary glands, and sometimes scrotal swelling in boys); and rubella or German measles (which can cause birth defects if the infection occurs during pregnancy). The first shot is given at 12 to 15 months of age and once again between the ages of four and six. MMR is sometimes combined with the chickenpox vaccine into one shot (brand name ProQuad). "All these different preparations are designed to reduce the amount of shots the pediatrician has to give," says Dr. Gold-von Simson.
Chickenpox, a highly contagious rash that many people remember from childhood, is caused by the varicella virus. A varicella vaccine was first licensed in 1995 and now spares future generations this itchy misery. Chickenpox infections can be especially dangerous in adults who don't have immunity from the vaccine or haven't had it in childhood, and can also lead to shingles, an extremely painful blistering rash. The shot is given to children at 12 to 15 months and again between four and six years. The vaccine can cause soreness at the site of the shot, fever, and, in some cases, a mild rash.
"Haemophilus influenza type b is the bacterium that causes meningitis," says Dr. Gold-von Simson. Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is particularly dangerous for kids under the age of five. Hib vaccines are generally given at two, four, six, and 12 to 15 months of age. Depending on the vaccine used, the six-month shot may not be needed. Fever, swelling, and redness at the site of the shot are potential side effects.
Polio vaccine is "such a success," says Dr. Gold-von Simson. "Because of the vaccine, there are no more cases (of polio)." There are no more in the United States that is. The virus hasn't been eradicated worldwide, so kids still get the IPV, or inactivated polio vaccine, which is a shot containing killed virus. Polio is bad news, and can cause paralysis and even death. Children are given the IPV at two months, four months, between six to 18 months, and then again between the ages of four and six years.
This vaccine, known as PCV13 (brand name Prevnar), protects against 13 types of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which are bacteria that can cause all sorts of mayhem, including meningitis, pneumonia, ear infections, blood infections, and even death. A total of four shots are given to kids (at two, four, six, and 12 to 15 months of age) to protect them against the germs, known collectively as pneumococcal bacteria. The most common side effects of the vaccine include drowsiness, swelling at the site of the shot, mild fever, and irritability.
Flu vaccinations are given each year starting in the fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them for kids ages six months or older, although they aren't required for school attendance. (Connecticut and New Jersey require the vaccine for attending child-care centers and preschool.) Common side effects from the vaccine include soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the shot. Fever and aches may occur too. "If you have an egg allergy, you shouldn't have the influenza vaccine," says Dr. Gold-von Simson.
The rotavirus vaccine (RV) (brand names RotaTeq, Rotarix) is given to children at two and four months of age. (RotaTeq is also given at six months.) The vaccine protects against a virus that is the most common cause of severe diarrhea and vomiting in young kids worldwide. About 55,000 children in the U.S. were hospitalized each year due to rotavirus before the vaccine was licensed in 2006. It is not required for school attendance. The vaccine is in liquid form and given by mouth to babies. It may make them a bit more irritable and can also cause mild diarrhea or vomiting.
Kids can catch hepatitis A from sharing food or drinks or by putting contaminated food or objects in their mouths. It's a viral infection that affects the liver, and can cause a number of symptoms, including fever, tiredness, jaundice, and loss of appetite. Children ages 12 through 23 months generally get two doses of the Hep A vaccine, with a minimum interval of six months between shots. Some states require the vaccine for school attendance. Soreness where the shot was given, headache, and loss of appetite are the most common side effects of the vaccine.
This vaccine, known as MCV4 (brand name Menactra), protects against meningococcal bacteria, which can infect the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. MCV4 is recommended for kids at 11 or 12 years of age, and anyone between ages two and 55 who is at increased risk of infection (people with certain health conditions, military recruits). Teens starting college should be vaccinated with MCV4 before going to school if they didn't previously get the shot. (Freshman living in dorms are at increased risk of infection.) A little pain at the site of the shot is the most common side effect.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (brand names Gardasil, Cervarix) is given in three doses over a six-month period, and is approved for girls between ages nine and 26. While there are over a hundred types of HPV, this vaccine protects against two sexually transmitted types that are the most common causes of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types that cause genital warts and is approved for boys between nine and 26 as well. The vaccine works only if given before an infection, so doctors recommend it for kids well before they could become sexually active. Although most states don't require HPV vaccination, many are considering mandating it for preteen girls.