Bioethics Blogs

Managing Adverse Events in Health Care

Kirstin Borgerson considers responses to adverse events in mainstream and alternative medicine.


Canadians reading this blog will likely be familiar with the case of Ezekiel Stephan. Ezekiel was a 19-month old child who died of bacterial meningitis in 2012. His parents, David and Collett Stephan, were found criminally responsible for failing to provide the necessities of life. The ruling focused on their reluctance to visit a medical doctor even as the symptoms exhibited by their son escalated dramatically. The basic facts of the case are here.

In response to this case, 43 physicians wrote to a letter to the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta calling for an investigation of the naturopath the parents consulted, and that investigation is now proceeding. The province’s Health Minister has also weighed in on the issue, indicating that she will be reviewing the regulations that govern naturopathy, with an eye to strengthening them. The case also elicited heated responses from parents, health care providers, citizens, and legislators, many of whom have argued that Canada needs stiffer criminal penalties in these sorts of cases.

Photo Credit: Angel Petropanagos

In addition to these responses, there have been a range of specific proposals in the domain of health policy, including: eliminating self-regulation for naturopaths and other alternative health care providers; prohibiting the use of certain titles (like doctor) by naturopaths; banning herbal products from pharmacies; and eliminating Health Canada’s role in regulating Natural Health Products.

Underlying each of these proposals is a judgement that the naturopath involved in this case did something wrong.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.