Bad Parenting? Bad Medicine.

Trigger warning for child abuse and death

As parents, the worse thing that we can possibly imagine is something bad happening to our child. Of course, the biggest fear of parents that hits the news is when a child is abducted. It is heart-wrenching to think about. But, the risk of a child being abducted is minuscule compared to more mundane risks such as illness and accidents.

We can do many things to protect our children from accidents. We child-prof our homes, always keep them in approved car seats when we travel, watch them every second while they play at the playground. We can also do things to try to keep them healthy. Vaccinations are crucial, as is good hygiene and a healthy diet.

Still, outside of literally putting our kids in a bubble, we can keep them from getting sick at some point. Kids get sick, and they do so more often than adults because their immune systems are still learning how to protect them.

When I was six years old, I had the croup. My windpipe closed up to the point that I almost died. I had to have a tracheotomy and was in the hospital for over a week. I was lucky that my parents and the doctor were vigilant.

When my son got croup, I felt terror that I’d never experienced before. That first time, when after hot steam and then cold air still didn’t help and he began gasping for breath, we called 911. Just like me, he got a ride in an ambulance to the emergency room. Unlike me, he got medicines and breathing treatments that didn’t exist when I was his age. For my son, there was no tracheotomy and he was home, safe and sound, in just a few hours.

Ok, you are a good parent and you’ve taken all the reasonable precautions, but now your child is ill. When they are just babies, especially when it is your first, the first cough or sneeze is panic inducing.

We bundle the little tyke up and rush off to the pediatrician. We get the diagnosis, get the medicine, get home, administer the treatment, and then spend the next night or two sleeping with one eye and both ears open for any signs of things getting worse. If things haven’t got better, or get worse, we immediately rush back off to the pediatrician, or the emergency room.

Well, at least most of us do.

Unfortunately, there are some parents who rely on others methods to treat their children’s illnesses besides modern medicine. Some rely on prayer, some on questionable and unproven medical treatments, or often, treatments that have been shown to be harmful. Some completely eschew verified, science based medicine out of unfounded fear or for ideological reasons.

Last month, a mother in Alberta, Canada was charged with negligence in the death of her 7 year old son, who, according to news sources,

…is facing charges of negligence and failure to provide the necessities of life in connection with the death of her seven-year-old son, who died of a treatable bacterial infection in March.
According to police, the boy was bedridden for 10 days before his death, however, the mother declined to seek medical treatment, relying instead on homeopathic remedies and herbal medicines.
“It should absolutely serve as a warning to other parents,” said Calgary Police Service Staff Sergeant Michael Cavilla. “The message is quite simple: If your child is sick, take them to see a doctor.”

In 2008, an 11 year old girl died ( because her parents chose to pray instead of properly treat her diabetes.

…an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.


The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

These are just two examples of how lack of critical thinking led parents to rely on unproven and obviously ineffective treatments to heal their children’s illnesses.

I have no doubt that these parents dearly loved their children and honestly and earnestly wanted to do the best for them. Sadly, lack of critical thinking on their part led to every parent’s worse nightmare. Even just a modicum of sensible thinking in the face of an ever worsening illness should have raised doubts in their minds that what they were doing just wasn’t working.

A reliance on bad medicine based on pseudoscience or faith was the direct cause of these children’s suffering and death. Unfortunately, far too many people believe in these things while shunning proven, effective treatments.

Were these parents bad parents? Their children are dead because of deliberate choices that they made. They may not be bad people, they may even been the nicest, most caring people you could ever meet. But by watching their children suffer as they got progressively sicker and refusing to get them real, effective medical care that they knew was easily available, they certainly are bad parents, regardless of what their best intentions may have been.

As adults, we are free to make any decision we like concerning our own wellbeing. If those decisions lead to adverse effects, well, that’s the price we pay. Want to take sugar pills to treat your cancer? Have at it. Feel your religious faith and prayer will heal your failing liver? Fine and dandy. It’s your life, literally, after all.

When you become a parent, however, you take on a responsibility for another life. That responsibility demands that you educate yourself about how to best care for that new life that is now in your hands.

There is no excuse in today’s modern, interconnected world for ignorance of reliable, effective medical treatments. These parents almost surely were not ignorant of this, they made a conscience decision to ignore them in favor of magic and superstition. And that is simply inexcusable.


Featured image courtesy of: David Stanley Travel


Jay is a dad, husband, and pet lover. He has a degree in Theater Arts and works as a Unix systems administrator, mainly because he has a degree in Theater Arts. He used to be a single dad, but now he is married to the perfect woman. He has two teenagers, a daughter, and a step-son. He also has an adult son. He shares his home with his wife, kids, an Australian Shepherd, and a bevy of adorable chihuahuas. He is a skeptic and humanist and tries to contribute to spreading rationality by writing about skeptical topics. You can find samples of his writing on his personal blog at Freethinking For Dummies, the JREF blog, and in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

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  1. My cousin’s ex is an “anthroposophic midwife”. Their kids are only vaccinated against tetanus, when they got sick they only got hoemeopathy, with the result that their youngest once went from scarlet fever into a pneumonia, was bedridden for six weeks and then needed to be nursed back to health slowly.
    To me, that’s child abuse. If she had inflicted half the pain and suffering with her hands, everybody would have seen it for what it is. But simply because she chose not to give him godsdamn antibiotics, all the needless suffering is OK.

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