Complaint dismissed against naturopath in death of toddler

Insufficient evidence cited

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A regulatory agency has dismissed a complaint made against a naturopath in the case of a toddler who died of meningitis in southern Alberta.

In a letter to one of the complainants, the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta says there is insufficient evidence that Tracey Tannis of Lethbridge conducted herself unprofessionally.

Tannis testified at the trial of David and Collet Stephan, who were found guilty of failing to provide the necessaries of life for their 19-month-old son.

Court heard the couple thought Ezekiel had croup or the flu and treated him with home remedies before the mother took the severely ill child to a naturopathic clinic and picked up an echinacea mixture to help him.

Tannis testified she never met the mother, but a clinic worker told court she had introduced the two.

In the letter, the college says its investigation confirmed that Collet Stephan went into Tannis’s clinic alone and that Tannis did not advise Stephan on how to treat her son.

“You asked the college to investigate Dr. Tannis regarding someone she did not see and was not asked to see,” the letter says.

“It is for these reasons I find that there is no evidence that Dr. Tannis engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to meet the standards of care in relation to the care and treatment of Ezekiel Stephan.”

College president Beverly Huang refused to release the letter, but The Canadian Press obtained a copy from Ontario doctor Michelle Cohen, one of several physicians who complained to the regulatory body.

Huang declined to comment. Tannis did not immediately return messages seeking her comment.

In an email, Cohen said that if the college “has established with a high degree of confidence that Dr. Tannis never gave Collet Stephan echinacea for Ezekiel, then I am satisfied with this answer.”

Cohen said she was more troubled by the college’s findings about the sale of natural remedies from within the clinic where the doctor was practising. She said physicians are advised that selling non-medically necessary products in their clinics is a conflict of interest.

The college noted there were no guidelines around the sale of natural products by its members when the boy died in 2012, so it couldn’t do anything about Cohen’s concerns.

“Ultimately, I feel the (college) did perform an adequate job investigating the conduct of a specific naturopath in a specific case however, they completely ignored their greater responsibility to the public to deal with the question of selling herbal products out of a naturopathic clinic,” Cohen said.

David Stephan was sentenced to four months in jail and his wife was given three months of around-the-clock house arrest except for medical appointments and church.

The Stephans have appealed their convictions and the Crown has indicated it will appeal the couple’s sentence.

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