We have a lot of opinions about nutrition, natural medicine, and drugs here at Blisstree, but we also assume that everyone has the right to make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies. Not in France: Last week, French couple Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou were sentenced to five years in prison for “neglect and deprivation” of their 11-month-old daughter, after prosecutors argued that homeopathic medicine, veganism, and breastfeeding killed their baby when they failed to take their doctor’s advice. Doctors are frequently sued for malpractice, but this case raises an unusual question: Should patients also be culpable for choosing unconventional treatment plans?
In 2008, the couple took their daughter to a doctor, who suspected pneumonia and ordered a chest X-ray. Instead of taking her in for the test, they followed the advice of a book written in 1972, The Natural Guide to Childhood, by Jeanette Dextreit (who also defended her book in court). Two months later, she was losing weight (which state prosecutors blame on her mother’s choice to breastfeed while eating a strict vegan diet), and the couple canceled another doctor’s appointment; their daughter died one week later. French state prosecutors argue that the homeopathic remedies, breastfeeding, and her mother’s veganism are what killed the baby, but many reject those claims (especially proponents of breastfeeding and veganism).
Their case turns the typical medical controversy on its head: Doctors are sued for malpractice all the time, but it’s not often that you see patients taken to court (let alone prison) because they didn’t heed their doctors advice. In fact, patients are often encouraged to seek second opinions. And in a world where patients can spend endless hours researching symptoms, diseases, and cures online, most of us are hardly passive receivers of information and treatment plans; we’re active in every phase from diagnosis to treatment. In most cases, it’s the patient who suffers the health consequences of their decisions about treatment and care (however far-reaching the emotional consequences may be for family, friends, and coworkers). But in some cases, patient decisions can impact public health, or as in the case of the Le Moaligous, it’s not the patient who makes the decisions at all; it’s guardians who are left to decide the fate of their loved one’s health.
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