BRUSSELS — Doctors in Belgium have called for parents who raise their children as vegans to face possible prosecution after a number of deaths in schools, nurseries and hospitals.
The Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium published a legal opinion Thursday that could influence future court judgments.
The opinion said it was unethical to subject children to the diet because it did not include animal proteins and vital amino acids that can help growth and prevent health problems.
The diet could only be made safe for children if complemented with medical supervision, regular blood tests and vitamin supplements, which most parents were not qualified to provide.
“We must explain to the parents before compelling them, but we can no longer tolerate this endangerment,” said Prof. Georges Casimir, who led the commission that wrote the report.
The opinion was published after a request by Bernard Devos, an official responsible for children’s protection.
Casimir warned that such a strict regime would now legally qualify as “non-assistance to a person in danger,” a crime that carries a sentence of up to two years’ jail and fines.
A person cannot be convicted of the 1961 offence if he is unaware the person is in danger but the legal opinion now made it common knowledge that a vegan diet can kill, he told Le Soir.
“We are talking here about stunted growth and psychomotor delays, undernutrition, significant anaemia.” the paediatrician said.
“Some developments must be done at a specific time in life and if they are not done, it is irreversible.”
It is estimated that three per cent of Belgian children are forced to follow the strict diet.
In 2017, in Beveren, a couple were given a suspended six-month jail term after their seven-month-old baby died of malnutrition and dehydration, blamed by doctors on the parents’ choice to only feed it vegetable “milk.”
It’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure their child is getting all the necessary nutrients
“What a load of ignorant codswallop! A well-planned vegan diet is perfect for babies and children,” said Dawn Carr, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“But as with any dietary regime, it’s the parents’ responsibility to ensure their child is getting all the necessary nutrients.”
Heather Russell, a dietitian at The Vegan Society, also says it’s possible to raise a healthy child without animal products.
“(It is) recognized that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages, including infants, children, teenagers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.”