Parents Charged With Death of Baby After Refusing Medical Treatment in Favor of Homeopathic Treatment

125px-flag_of_australiasvgAn Australian jury is considering manslaughter charges against parents of a baby girl who refused basic treatment of an eczema condition of their nine-month-old baby. The parents — Thomas Sam and Manju Sam — were believers in homeopathic treatment and stayed with their principles unmoved as the baby Gloria Sam died.

The parents are charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence.
The baby lived in agony due to the untreated condition and died from septicemia in May 2002 and had lost almost a quarter of her weight by her death.

We have seen similar cases of parental religious beliefs killing children in the United States.

In this case, the Indian-born father was trained in homeopathic medicine and told doctors that he “could not” comply with their referral to a dermatologist. It is not clear if there was a religious component or simply a unwavering faith in homeopathy.

For the full story, click here.

19 thoughts on “Parents Charged With Death of Baby After Refusing Medical Treatment in Favor of Homeopathic Treatment”

  1. Anything happening in the world. Parents are confused and disoriented. Modern medicine is perhaps unable to answer some questions. Traditional methods of treatment are perhaps too practiced.

  2. Here is an update to this story. It seems the mother went to hospital to get her gallbladder treated but they would not do the same for their daughter’s eczema. Also they were too busy with their demanding social life and waited an extra day to take their daughter into emergency where she died.

  3. I have a 22mth old daughter who just like little Gloria suffered and is still suffering from eczema and allergies. With wet bandaging, frequent moisturising, sensible use of cortisoid creams and antihistamine my daughter’s condition is controllable and today has clear, soft skin.

    The torture of eczema on babies is horrific to watch and how Gloria’s parents, especially her mother who was breast feeding her could have witnessed this and did not do everything and anything in their power to help her makes them heartless, really stupid, blind monsters!

    What the hell were they trying to prove?? Don’t try to make a point using your only child as an experiment. They cannot have my pity because they didn’t show any to their own helpless little girl.

  4. Matthew,

    As stated earlier by me and others, I do think that allowing beliefs about health care, be they ideologically based (natural medicine is safe, WM is evil being a common idea) or religion is always trumped by the suffering of a child. What is described here can only be called child abuse.

    Where we disagree is at the point of alternative medicine not being of any value. I tend to favor evidence based medicine. That is actually not well practiced in TWM. The best evidence is obtained from double blind, independently conducted experiments with careful selection of participants to include the most diverstiy in subjects as possible. The other evidence is practical experience over time. Many pharmaceutical companies send ethnobotanists to check out traditional remedies around the world for the purpose of finding new (at least to us) remedies.

    You are a great poster and I hope you keep coming to this site. I always value reading what you have to say. This is a short article from my newspaper. It’s not the best example, but I see it as an example of the convergence between TWM and indegenous/ancient medicine.

  5. Mike Appleton:
    “The courts have generally ruled in favor of mainstream medical care for seriously ill children, regardless of their parents’ beliefs. But what passes for acceptable medical standards is a constantly moving target. As a matter of practicality, I tend to favor compulsory treatment in accordance with prevailing medical standards when the life of a child is in the balance. ”

    At some point it comes down to a third party, a family member, neighbor etc. being willing to get involved enough to call the local child protective service and then someone doing their job.

    I too am a ‘prevailing medical standards” advocate for any emergency or ‘dire’ situation; give me a pill to fix it now and lets talk about prevention or other methods once the bleeding stops. I do have a great deal of respect for many homeopathic practices though. They are what kept people alive and intact for millennia before what we refer to as medical technology came into play.

    My grandmother was a great one for herbs and poultices and she had a vast knowledge of such things. Some of it was pure bunk and superstition but she grew up and lived her early life before: before antibiotics and anesthesia and if a cure wasn’t something you could find in the fields and woods you just didn’t have a chance of getting a cure.

    She and my grandfather were subsistence farmers married at 14 and 16 respectively moving to their new home from Ohio to Tennessee across the Smokey mountains in a mule drawn wagon! The Tennessee Valley was the promised land and people were lured to that part of the country by the government with the promise of a mule and acreage (and got cheated out of most of the acreage!) so much of her life was spent without what we take for granted in the way of medical care. There is wisdom we have lost that needs to be rediscovered IMO so I don’t dismiss non-traditional medicine as unworthy of study or practice.

  6. This is an example of what occurs more frequently in this country than we probabaly care to admit. The balancing of the interests of parents in making health decisions for their children and of society in protecting children from abusive behavior is in constant tension. It becomes even more difficult when religious principles inform health care decisions. The courts have generally ruled in favor of mainstream medical care for seriously ill children, regardless of their parents’ beliefs. But what passes for acceptable medical standards is a constantly moving target. As a matter of practicality, I tend to favor compulsory treatment in accordance with prevailing medical standards when the life of a child is in the balance. Although homeopathic medicine is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity, that is hardly evidence of its efficacy.

  7. Matthew, I think you’re right about prosecuting these parents. I know that there is a balancing act done between the interests of the State and parents religious freedom or but I believe it’s false. I keep returning to a more fundamental level of argument that is really not fully settled as yet. If everyone in a society has a right to health care does the society not have an overriding obligation to provide that care? This obligation would come to bear most heavily when a child is involved because children are not granted full legal rights as a person until a State requirement is met (age)or a judge rules it so if a child sues for emancipation.

    I would let the caretaker aspect of a State obligation trump religion regarding medical care of a child any day. Maybe a lawyer on this site could enlighten me on the state of child law these days? Isn’t there some provision to get a child in this kind of distress away from their parents and into treatment?

  8. Just to respond to a few criticisms first: You should accept the fact that science is an ever-changing field that is constantly being reevaluated and thus use a skeptical viewpoint towards accepted methods of treatment as well. For instance, I would be very skeptical if a doctor prescribed me a medication for something I could change through diet, exercise, or something (for example, if I had high blood pressure, I would first resort to a better diet and more exercise before beginning to take any sort of permanent medication). With that being said, any “alternative medicine” that is popular enough that you or I know about it has either been effectively disproved on every level OR the verdict is still out on it. Homeopathy, the system of therapy based on the concept that disease can be treated with drugs (in minute doses) thought capable of producing the same symptoms in healthy people as the disease itself, has been systematically disproved many times. Acupuncture, on the other hand, has questionable benefits, but mostly due to the fact that the type of problems that acupuncture claims to fix (namely lower back pain) are problems that are very complex and hard to fix using any method. If any forms of “alternative medicine” really worked, they would be taken up by medical practitioners so quickly it would make your head spin. Contrary to conspiracy theorists claims, the pharmaceutical companies are not trying to keep you sick so they can line their pockets.

    About this case: I think these type of people should be prosecuted in the same way other people who endanger their children are. I am not familiar with the laws surrounding child endangerment, but I know that, for instance, you can be prosecuted and have your children taken away for putting them in dangerous situations. For example, I saw a mother who was recently sentenced to jail for some type of child endangerment because she knew that her boyfriend beat her three year old child (who he eventually killed with one of these beatings). I’ve also seen people cited/charged for leaving their children locked in a car while they were at work or while they ran in the store for a bit. Refusing to give your child competent medical care is essentially refusing to do your job as a parent. I feel uncomfortable saying this even though I am not religious (and would probably be called anti-religion by many of my friends/colleagues), but one’s religious beliefs should not and cannot be allowed to be the basis for denying health care to a sick child.

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  10. I have a difficult time believing anyone could “believe” in anything to the point that he would watch his child suffer and die. These parents’ punishment – regardless of the charge – should be to work in the pediatric unit of a modern hospital for 10 years and save a few lives for a change.

  11. Coming from a family that is in the medical field and I was the miscreant. I have mixed emotions about this type of crammed down medical treatment.

    I believe that a parent has the right to raise there child within reason. I do think that the child should at least be able to consent. Here this child could not speak, so, where is the government intrusion when it is needed? It is a balance and a delicate balance.

  12. In the age before “science”, it was a traditional folk remedy for women experiencing weakness and fatigue to eat an apple that had iron nails inserted and allowed to rust.

    Today, iron supplements are a standard treatment for anemia.

    All of the world is interlaced process. Science is just the name we apply to a process we’ve formalized language to describe.

    Just because someone doesn’t fully understand the mechanics of a process does not make it ineffective by default. It just means it’s not understood or misunderstood. That’s where the scientific method comes into play. It’s also why Clarke was right in his assertion that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I know how computers work in great detail. Yet I cannot count the number of people I know, perfectly intelligent in other areas, who think a computer is a magic box because they don’t understand the basic functions. Some who even go so far as to mistake computers for being actually intelligent. Mistake or misunderstanding does not make a process irrational or unscientific. It just makes you mistaken or wrong.

    To write off homeopathics in toto as “not being science” is as poor an assumption that all science is correct. Science is a body of knowledge that is ever changing and to put full faith in it as being always correct is just as foolish as putting faith in the idea that if one surrenders one’s free will to fundamentalism. Worshiping science as perfection is an error in many ways akin to fundamentalism and a disservice to science itself by limiting ones ability to and range of inquiry.

    You doubt a claim?

    Form a hypothesis.
    Design a test.
    Gather data.
    Confirm or deny the hypothesis.
    Repeat as needed.
    Once data shows a trend or definable process, form a postulate that may some day become a law unless disproven or modified by later observations, tests, and hypothesis.

    But to say, “that’s bunk because it comes from X” is simply prejudicial and bad science. It’s dogmatic. And dogmatic thinking damages scientific endeavor as mush as it does theological study. It’s rigid and lazy thinking.

  13. There is no such thing as “alternative medicine”. Medicine is based on scientific inquiry, peer reviewed experimentation and observable, replicable results. Any treatment that can meet this standard (including consuming omega-3 fatty acids) would qualify as medicine, even if it is a new or newly accepted course of treatment.

    I have friend with persistent headaches. She’s a believer in homeopathic treatments and refuses to take any medicine for her headaches. A mutual friend of ours offered her a course of treatment that involved hitting her on the foot with a rubber mallet. As she put it, “I believe that this will help your headaches. Of course, I have no evidence to back that up. But if you don’t believe me, and pay me for this course of treatment, you clearly have a closed mind.”

  14. “The court heard that by the time Gloria was six months old, the eczema had begun weeping and her clothing and nappies would stick to her skin and tear it whenever her parents changed her.”

    This is well past the point of bowing to belief, either in homeopathy or religion of any kind. A belief system must give way to evidence of suffering. If true, this is child abuse that allowed a slow, painful death.


    I agree with Mike S. Many of TWM treatments aren’t based in science either (dousing women with HRT for example). My personal philosophy is TWM is the one to go for in emergencies. Other diseases are worth trying the least toxic treatment that has at least pretty good evidence for efficacy and then moving up the scale of toxicity to symptom relief ratio. Some alternative therapies have years worth of experience but very little clinical trials behind them. If you’re safe to go with a gentler/less side effect inducing alternative treatment first, I think it’s worth a shot.

    In this case, after trying homeopathy for a very short time and seeing the symptoms progress, to not take further steps to obtain effective treatment is both criminal and incredibly cruel. I’m all for adults choosing their own treatment, but ideology has no place in allowing suffering to be inflicted on children.

  15. Matthew,
    Acu-puncture used to be considered alternate medicine as was Fish oil which has cut my LDL’s by 50% and was recommended by my cardiologist. Some alternative medicine has had value, nevertheless when medical crisis strikes I’m heading for my Physician, or the ER.

  16. “Alternative” medicine is alternative medicine because it isn’t based on science. A bigger problem than the nutcases who allow their kids to die because they insist on homeopathy/intercessory prayer is the credence that the mainstream media lends to these anti-science numbskulls. If any of this stuff actually worked, it would be adopted into normal medical practice in a heartbeat. Instead, conspiracy theorists and the easily-fooled rely on “new age” treatments that will do nothing for them in the end.

  17. Our version of medicine has its flaws and much can be gleaned from alternative views. A point is reached though where the prudent person goes for the best option. These parents didn’t exercise prudent judgment and their child died horribly. Though, no doubt they are already suffering terrible punishment, I believe that an example must be set for other parents, so that they see that a point is reached where their beliefs don’t work and they must do what is best for their child and not the dictates of their so-called conscience.

  18. Ok. I am now officially in favor of not just parenting classes, but parenting licenses for this crowd.

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