An Australian judge found the parents of a baby girl starved of vital nutrients failed in their basic parental duties after the girl developed cerebral palsy due to her strict vegan diet.
In August 2018, when the girl was one, she was taken to a hospital in Victoria, Aus. where she was found to have bruising all over her body, a lowered body temperature, was lethargic, and had dark-colored blood in her stool, reports The Age. Doctors at the time said the level of malnutrition was akin to children in famine-stricken nations.
Reports show since the daughter was four-months-old her parents shunned medical advice to supplement their daughter’s diet with formula and instead placed her on a strict vegan diet, feeding her coconut milk, fruit juices, smoothies, plant-based foods and formula made by the father.
A County Court judge on Monday said the girl, now aged three, faced daily struggles in her cognitive development, physical functioning and communication, and found her life’s course was altered by her parents’ actions, reports The Age.
The judge said normally she would jail the parents but the parents in this case were now the best equipped to deal with the child’s extremely high needs–needs that were, ironically, created by the parents’ actions.
“You are in the best position to do that and [the daughter] deserves it,” the judge said. The names of the parents, aged in their 30s, were not released.
The judge convicted the parents and put them on 12-month community corrections orders. Both pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious injury.
The girl, born healthy, was initially fed with the mother’s breast milk. In 2017, when the girl was aged four months, the mother’s breast milk began to wane. The parents then rejected the advice of doctors to use formula and instead supplemented the baby’s diet with “natural” alternatives, court records show.
By November 2017 the girl was losing weight, unable to keep food down, and appeared unwell and malnourished. When one nurse tried to dissuade the couple from their approach, the father abused the nurse and refused to let her see their daughter again, reports The Age.
The father had been a vegan since his 20s and encouraged the same for their daughter. The mother became a vegan after she met the father and did not oppose placing their daughter on the diet, the court heard. The judge found both parents to be equally culpable in the child’s diet-induced disability.
The baby’s decline was rapid, reports The Age:
By August 2018, as the baby’s health deteriorated, the father contacted a health clinic in the US that specialised in detoxification programs, and wrote in an email: “We really don’t want to take her to the doctors or hospital because they just don’t understand but we also don’t want her to get so sick that we have no choice.”
Two days later the parents took their daughter to hospital. She was critically unwell and spent the next month in intensive care, as authorities began investigating.
The judge said it was the duty of parents to provide two key aspects for their children: providing their needs for a healthy development and protecting them from harm.
In court, the judge blasted the couple for their recklessness. “You both failed dismally in respect to this first part and adopted a course that was contrary to the sound and helpful advice that had been provided,” she said. “Your failure to seek medical assistance for your one-year-old … amounted to a gross breach of that duty.”
The parents are now separated but also have a younger son. The father still sees his children regularly – and has expressed guilt and grief at what they did. On Monday, the court heard that the father has moderated his views on veganism and now eats meat.