A vegan baby death is just like any other death of baby; incredibly sad and shocking. We all look for reasons why it would happen, and it's easy to settle on the parents' personal beliefs and choices as the general cause for neglect. Most of the time it's not that simple.
Most vegans who have been around for awhile have had to answer questions about these negligent parents who accidentally kill their babies two times; first when the child's death makes the news and then second when the trial and sentence occurs.
The perfect example is the 2011 case of the French parents Sergine and Joel Le Moaligou who in 2008 refused to take their sick infant to a doctor when she had bronchitis and ended up killing her. These parents are obviously at fault here, but their diet alone is not.
There are people who make the wrong decisions with their children who are vegan, of course, but there are just as many (or more) who make the same bad decisions and are non-vegan. In fact, many more cases of parents feeding their kids junk food that is technically called "food," but is incredibly unhealthy, never make the news. Those children grow up at huge risk for childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease. All those diseases simply multiple as the child continues their bad eating habits into adulthood.
Much has been made of the fact that the parents in this case chose to eat a vegan diet, and that they only fed their baby breastmilk. At first this headline gave me pause… many babies are still on breast milk at 11 months old, and some don't start eating more solid foods until a few months after that. So what exactly was wrong with the breast milk?
For one, the mother had a vitamin B12 deficiency. While vegans cannot easily get vitamin B12 from plant foods (it is in nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, spirulina, blackstrap molasses, and enriched milks), it is actually hard to develop a B12 deficiency since our bodies store it for a long time. This particular mother doesn't seem to have been very educated on how to ensure she was getting the proper nutrients.
Getting plenty of vitamin B12 is critical during pregnancy and breast feeding as your growing baby needs to stockpile the vitamin for him/herself.
At the Moaligou baby's nine-month check-up, their pediatrician diagnosed the baby with bronchitis and told the parents to take their child to the hospital. Our assumption is that the parents didn't trust traditional Western medicine, because they decided instead to try to treat their baby themselves with cabbage poultices and clay baths.
After two months of the baby losing more and more weight, the baby died. She weighed only 12.5 pounds, whereas a healthy 11 month-old baby should have weighed 17.5 pounds. She also suffered from a vitamin B12 deficiency and a vitamin A deficiency, but the official cause of death was a pneumonia-related illness.
France is openly unenthusiastic about vegan diets, and the deputy prosecutor states that the death was a direct result of the mother's diet, and charged them with neglect and food deprivation. The couple was sentenced to five years in prison for the death of their baby, as of April 2011.
The French baby was obviously unhealthy as she was not gaining weight and had a respiratory infection. I would venture a guess that nearly 100% of vegan mothers whose child showed these symptoms would immediately race into a hospital and find out what the problem was, just like nearly 100% of non-vegan mothers would do the same. But, there are negligent and unfit parents out there.
Another facet of these parents' lives that is now being attacked is the fact that they liked to approach things from a natural, holistic standpoint. Again, they are not representing the general population of natural, holistic people in any kind of decent light.
A year before the Moaligou vegan baby death, there was another vegan couple sentenced to life in prison for the death of their baby. Jade Sanders, 27, and Lamont Thomas, 31 fed their 6-week-old son, Crown Shakur, a diet of soy milk and apple juice. He weighed 3.5 pounds when he died.
They were charged with malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, and cruelty to children. While the defense attempted to say the first-time parents just didn't know what they were doing and had no idea they were endangering their child, the prosecutor Chuck Boring said they simply did not feed the child, “No matter how many times they want to say, ‘We’re vegans, we’re vegetarians,’ that’s not the issue in this case. The child died because he was not fed. Period.”
To me, this argument seems to be more true than just the "it's a vegan baby death" argument. The parents went against every regulation out there and fed their child a diet with almost no calories, they starved their child. Flat out. No vegan baby death-related implications here.