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Naturopath is cleared in Alberta baby’s meningitis death

David Stephan and his wife Collet Stephan arrive at court on March 10, 2016, in Lethbridge, Alberta.

David Rossiter/The Canadian Press

The College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta has dismissed a complaint against a member who became caught up in the investigation into the death of Ezekiel Stephan, a 19-month-old boy who died in 2012 after his parents failed to get him adequate medical care.

The college said it dismissed the complaint against Tracey Tannis because there is "insufficient or no evidence of unprofessional conduct."

The Lethbridge naturopath came under the spotlight last year during the criminal trial of Ezekiel's parents, David Stephan and Collet Stephan, when the jury heard Ms. Stephan had visited the naturopath's Lethbridge clinic and obtained a herbal remedy during the period when Ezekiel was sick.

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There were conflicting accounts during the trial as to whether the naturopath met Ms. Stephan and her son. As the trial wound down, an Ontario doctor asked the college to investigate, citing concerns related to the naturopath providing over-the-counter remedies for a patient she had not examined and her failure to provide vital information about the risks of meningitis.

Ezekiel died of bacterial meningitis. The trial was told his parents treated the boy with remedies containing garlic, onions and horseradish instead of taking him to a doctor. Last June, the parents were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their son. The father received a four-month jail term and the mother was sentenced to three months of house arrest.

They have appealed those sentences.

In its response to the complaint about the naturopath, which was signed by 43 physicians from across the country, the college said its investigation found Ms. Stephan came into the Lethbridge clinic alone, "for the sole purpose of purchasing an immune-support product."

"At no point did [Ms. Stephan] ask to speak to Dr. Tannis, to book an appointment for Ezekiel to be examined by Dr. Tannis, or to receive the doctor's clinical advice and recommendation on how to care for her son," the college said.

Dr. Tannis also "immediately and without hesitation" advised taking a child to a hospital emergency room when she heard someone calling her clinic suspected their child might have meningitis, the college said.

Evidence indicates Dr. Tannis was not aware that the person picking up a tincture for her child was the same person who had previously called about a baby who might have meningitis, the college said.

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"You asked the college to investigate Dr. Tannis regarding someone she did not see, and was not asked to see. It is for these reasons I find that there is no evidence that Dr. Tannis engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to meet the standard of care in relation to the care and treatment of Ezekiel Stephan," the college said.

The college also notes that naturopathic medicine was unregulated in Alberta at the time of the incident, and that there were no standards or guidelines for the sale of natural health-care products by the college's predecessor group when the alleged professional misconduct occurred.

Several provinces, including B.C., Alberta and Ontario, have passed legislation to regulate naturopaths.

In Alberta, naturopaths have been a regulated health profession since July of 2012.

The college did an adequate job of investigating the conduct of a specific naturopath, but ignored the broader question of selling herbal products out of a naturopathic clinic, said Michelle Cohen, the Ontario doctor whose letter to the CNDA last year triggered the investigation.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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