A naturopath has been jailed for seven months for encouraging a mother to shun doctors’ advice and follow an exclusion diet that almost killed her baby.
A NSW court heard that in 2015 Marilyn Bodnar advised a breastfeeding mother to go on a raw-only diet in order to “cure” her baby’s eczema after a specialist said it could not be cured but only treated.
The woman began to follow the naturopaths advice, and stopped conventional medical treatment for her son’s eczema. She subsequently lost 11kg in weight and her baby – who can’t be named for legal reasons and is referred to as ‘Tony’ – lost 1.6 kg.
Ms Bodnar, a former midwife, told the mother that the baby’s weight loss was normal because it was fat and needed to lose weight, the court heard.
When the baby developed fever the naturopath advised the mother – who was still exclusively breastfeeding her baby – to go on a water-only diet. She also advised the mother to avoid introducing any solids to the baby in an attempt to control the eczema. When the baby’s situation became ‘critical’ the naturopath recommended the infant be given goat’s milk, which he vomited up.
Eventually when the infant was 7.5 months old his mother took him to a GP, who found him to be in a “shrunken state” with muscle and body fat loss and likely dehydrated.
Transferred to hospital, the baby was found to be in a critical condition, with the doctors “forming the opinion that had he not presented to hospital he could have died within a number of days” the court heard.
The infant had the developmental equivalent of a 3-month-old and had to stay in hospital for over a month. It is not clear whether he will have ongoing developmental delay.
In a submission to the court, the naturopath said she never saw the baby in the emaciated state that prompted his referral to hospital.
Ms Bosnar pleaded guilty to having aided, abetted, counselled or procured the commission of an offence by “Tony”‘s mother to recklessly, and without reasonable excuse, fail to provide her baby with the necessities of life causing a danger of death, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
NSW District Court judge Peter Berman SC sentenced Ms Bosnar to 14 months in prison, with a seven month non-parole period.
In sentencing, Judge Berman said people who claim to be qualified to give medical advice had an obligation to provide advice which is based on proven results, “not merely fake science and faith”.
“People are perfectly entitled to portray themselves as able to cure illnesses through the placement of crystals on the body, the use of highly diluted solutions, and the eating of activated almonds. But the criminal law does get involved when harm results from dangerous advice and where gross recklessness in the giving of such advice leads to a significant risk of death,” he ruled.
He said there was no doubt that Ms Bosnar was a caring and well-meaning individual whose advice was based on a sincere belief that there was some connection between the infant’s eczema and the mother’s diet.
“But once it became clearly apparent that there was a risk of harm to Tony through the mother following her advice it was a seriously criminal thing to do to ignore the effect of her advice on Tony’s well-being”.
He said a prison sentence was a last resort, but was needed to “reflect the objective gravity of her conduct and the need to deter others who may also give well-meaning but misguided advice of a medical nature which has the potential to cause great harm and even death.”