May 10, 2007
Spare the milk and starve the baby?
I'm intrigued by the story of these two Atlanta screwballs who killed their baby by starving him to death with a radical vegan diet. Now the child's grandmother is afraid her son will starve to death in prison because of his veganism:
Lamont Thomas' mother fears he may soon die by staying true to his vegan lifestyle.The baby was born in a bathtub, the parents distrusted doctors, and (they claim) they weren't given the resources to disprove the prosecution's "theories":
The grandmother said she had urged them to take Crown to a doctor for a checkup, but her son wanted to raise the baby without interference from doctors. Thomas' attorney, Brandon Lewis, said the couple worried about hospital germs.Naturally, organized vegans are irate that the parents are even being called "vegans" (a word they place in quotes). An article titled "Don't blame veganism for child neglect" is typical:
In a sad and tragic story, the news recently broke that a "vegan couple" were found guilty of starving their 6-week old baby to death. The AP story reports that the couple fed the baby mostly soy milk and apple juice. If that's true, then the couple's crime wasn't that they were vegan. They were either incredibly misinformed, stupid, or both.Well, the soy milk fed to the dead baby was apparently clearly labeled.
Most infants who are not breastfeeding exclusively should be given a cow's milk based iron fortified formula.The problem is that these formulas are not truly vegan, as they contain animal-derived ingredients such as Taurine and L-Methionine. These substances often come up in arguments between over things like "vegan cat food" (yes, there is such a thing, although it is controversial). In the last link, there's a ferocious debate over Taurine, with one side contending that most commercially available Taurine is of bovine origin, and the other claiming it's synthetic. This is a new topic for me, and I am not about to spend all day tracking it down, but it does appear that there's a nutritive difference between natural and artificial Taurine -- with the former being "essential":
Natural taurine is an essential constituent of formula milk for infants and, because of the inferior nutritional value (), of synthetic forms, it is important to discriminate between these and taurines derived from a natural source.For obvious reasons, natural Taurine therefore appears to be a major component in infant formulas. Additionally, this vegan site warns that synthetic Taurine is bad for the environment:
Taurine - is found in the bile of mammals. It can be synthesized in a lab, but in doing so is encredibly harsh on the environment.Wouldn't want our baby to have a bad carbon footprint, now would we?
True vegans who cannot breastfeed may be out of luck, because as best as I can readily determine, there is no such thing as a true, pure, vegan infant formula. Here's a vegan doctor:
For those searching for an organic and vegan infant formula, unfortunately, at this time US and UK food industries do not offer any completely vegan soy-based formulas.More discussion here of the serious problems faced by vegan mothers -- especially those unable to properly breastfeed their babies.
There also seem to be health issues related to excess Manganese from eating too much soy.
Let me admit that my bias here. I am not a vegan, although I have from time to time been a vegetarian for health reasons (I have found vegetarianism to be an effective way to shed excess pounds as well as save money). But I've never been a vegetarian for moral reasons, and I have even less inclination towards veganism. That does not mean that I would stop anyone from being a vegan. The problem I have with vegans is that many of them are evangelical, and see their veganism as a quasi religion. If only they left it at that I wouldn't mind, but in addition a lot of them see it as part of an abolitionist movement -- which means they want to impose their views on the rest of society, even by government force.
My biases aside, I do see an interesting legal issue here. Suppose for the sake of argument that a radical vegan mother was unable to breastfeed her baby, and that there was no adequate, truly vegan replacement. Suppose further that she maintained her veganism was akin to a religion (at least one test case in California made that claim, and of course there are supportive law review articles). Wouldn't she have the same rights as a Jehovah's Witness or Christian Scientist? What rights are those, anyway?
This is not as idle a question as it might appear, as it isn't the first time vegan babies have starved. In 2003, a vegan couple in New York was convicted of starving their baby (who fortunately was taken away from them and managed to live). Reading between the lines, I get the impression that they may have seen their veganism as quasi-religious:
Lawyers for the Swintons said they would appeal the verdict, noting that the first-degree assault charge included a finding that an offender had depraved intentions. Part of the Swintons' defense had been that they were not knowledgeable enough about child nutrition and did not realize that they were endangering their child until hospital workers told them that IIce was sick.Well, their wrong choice included rejecting medical care, and choosing not to breastfeed:
Mrs. Swinton, who is 32, gave birth to IIce at her home three months prematurely. They never received prenatal or postnatal care. In an interview yesterday as she waited for the verdict, Mrs. Swinton said she had been a wayward, 300-pound young adult when she decided to adopt the vegan diet. She and her husband of seven years, who is also 32, have been on it for several years.Hmmm..... Considering that there are no truly vegan formulas, it sounds as if Amy Lanou may have been fudging a bit on that one. (But my guess is that she was a prosecution witness. Had I been defending the parents, I'd have had a doctor testify differently.) The prosecutor argued that the parents were feeding the child a "gerbil" diet:
Mr. Rosenbaum, the prosecutor, said the care given to IIce was akin to what a child might offer to a ''pet gerbil.'' He said that no matter what the parents' intentions, their failure to seek any type of medical care as IIce's condition worsened merited the criminal charges. In addition to assault, the parents were convicted of first-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. They will be sentenced on May 16.Race is alleged to have been involved, although I'm not quite sure why:
Members of several black advocacy groups attended most of the trial and after the verdict, some said that from the start, the mostly white jury was against the Swintons, who are black. The jurors, who deliberated for two days, had been sequestered since Wednesday morning, prompting Judge Richard L. Buchter to remind them as they were dismissed that ''there's a war going on, and it's people like you serving in this system that is what America is all about.''While that last sentence about the war going on is wholly unrelated to race (and thus non-sequiturish?) a jury's racial composition alone does not prove bias. Would the same mostly white jury have acquitted a white couple for starving their baby? I see no reason why, and the issue does not seem to have been raised on appeal. At least, it is not mentioned in the appellate opinion, which sustained most of the counts of the verdict, as well as the sentences. The dissent, however, argues that while the child was neglected, the parents were unable to form the requisite criminal intent for reckless endangerment.
These are interesting cases, and I'm sure there will be more of them.
Especially if there's no such thing as a true vegan infant formula.
(One of these days I really should get around to exploring the increasingly urgent vegan cat issue.)
posted by Eric on 05.10.07 at 09:10 AM
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