By Tristan Hopper (The Providence)
An Ontario father has lost custody of his children in part because he refused to stop trying to cure their autism through homeopathy.
“Not only were these treatments not effective, but they had negative effects,” reads a court decision granting sole custody to the children’s mother.
The father, a 48-year-old computer programmer in the Greater Toronto Area, will now see the children three weekends a month, with shared access during holidays.
The two boys, aged nine and 10, suffer from “severe and profound” autism spectrum disorder. They do not speak, are not toilet-trained or able to dress or feed themselves.
At an October hearing, the children’s mother sought a court order barring her former husband from administering homeopathic treatments, arguing he was pointlessly “looking for a ‘cure’ for autism rather than trying to find a method of managing autism.”
Homeopathy, developed in Germany in the early 19th century, is an alternative therapy that holds that diseases can be cured by giving patients remedies that cause the same symptoms as the original illness.
‘Not only were these treatments not effective, but they had negative effects’
Some homeopaths will intensely dilute their medicines to the point where a dose may only contain one or two molecules of the “active” ingredient.
Before the Ontario Court of Justice, the mother argued that a homeopathic remedy intended to reduce one boy’s spasms instead made him “very aggressive.”
“He would not stop hitting everyone and it took about two weeks for the behaviour to stop and for him to return to his normal state,” say court documents.
Another time, the father refused to administer prescribed antibiotics for an infected cut on the nine-year-old’s finger. Instead, he intentionally kept the child from his mother while attempting to treat the infection with homeopathic remedies.
The child’s cut “did not heal but became more infected,” said the custody ruling released Tuesday.
The case of the two autistic boys does not involve a potentially fatal illness, but as family lawyer Andrew Feldstein told the National Post, it quickly could.
“Kids get strep throat all the time, and you need antibiotics to deal with strep throat,” said Feldstein, “and if a parent is having problems with the other parent administering the antibiotics, that becomes a very serious issue.”
Ultimately, the issue of medical care was only one of several issues that coloured the custody hearing in which both parents sought sole custody.
Justice Roselyn Zisman was particularly critical of the father’s refusal to see his children during the summer, and his threat to institutionalize the children unless his $500-a-month child-support payments were lowered.
“If you cannot handle the children I suggest foster care, institutionalizing them, or cover my child expenses so I can take them,” wrote the man in a July text to his ex-wife.
As Zisman wrote, “the father’s decision not to see the children is the most glaring example of his inability to put the children’s needs before his own need to control and punish the mother.”
‘If you cannot handle the children I suggest foster care, institutionalizing them, or cover my child expenses so I can take them’
The ruling is one of several Canadian custody battles that have centred on a child being potentially endangered by a parent’s unorthodox medical views.
Last year, the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society was called in to intervene after a father resolved to treat his toddler’s leukemia with cannabis oil, rather than chemotherapy.
“We understand that no parent takes a decision to withhold medical treatment lightly … but when such a decision threatens the life or safety of a child, we look to the courts to make a final decision,” said a spokeswoman for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario at the time.
However, in 2014 children’s aid officials decided not to intervene in the case of Makayla Sault, a leukemia-stricken 11-year-old whose parents had advised her to treat her disease with alternative remedies. Sault died earlier this year.
And in numerous instances, Canadian judges have ruled that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have the right to deny potentially life-saving blood transfusions for their children.