Alternative Medicine

French Vegan Baby’s Death Gives Alternative Medicine Bad Rap

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A recent news story reports on a French couple whose baby died after they fed her a strict vegan diet and refused to treat her with conventional medicine when she became ill.

Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou were sentenced to five years in prison after their 11-month-old baby, Louise, died of pneumonia. News reports lay the blame on their having fed Louise a diet free of all animal products.

The full story, however, has quite a bit more to it. The Le Moaligous took their sick daughter to a doctor in January 2008. Suspecting Louise was suffering from pneumonia, the doctor told them to get her a chest X-ray. The couple never did so; they opted to treat her with alternative medical remedies like mustard, garlic and clay chest poultices. Louise died 18 days after the doctor had seen her.

The Le Moaligous followed advice laid out in the book “The Natural Guide to Childhood,” written in 1972 by Jeannette Dextreit, who testified in the court case against Louise’s parents. She said the book wasn’t intended to replace traditional medical care for babies and children, but rather to complement it. “It was book on (child)rearing not a book of treatment. I didn't say to consult a doctor if the illness persisted because, for me, that was obvious,” she said.

Cases like this one are the reason alternative medicine has such a bad reputation: adherents to mainstream medicine begin to believe that those who employ natural remedies do so instead of seeing a doctor, rather than in addition to using traditional medical treatments. In most cases, this simply isn’t true.

The vast majority of parents who use natural medicine for their children wouldn’t dream of replacing doctor’s visits with it: their child’s life is too precious for them to rule out an entire scientific field when it comes to treating illness. Yes, you might use natural gripe water if your child seems to spit up a lot; if your baby really can’t seem to keep any milk or food down – if she’s losing weight, as baby Louise was – that’s when you go to the doctor.

If a doctor prescribes a treatment that doesn’t work, he or she reevaluates the situation and comes up with another possible remedy. That’s what Joel and Sergine Le Moaligou should have done, rather than ignoring their daughter’s worsening condition and pig-headedly following the advice in a natural medicine book that was never intended to be a replacement for traditional medical science. No wonder doctors mistrust alternative medicine.