Marilyn Bodnar – Sydney naturopath will spend not less than seven months in prison for advising a breastfeeding mother to go on a raw food diet to heal her baby son’s skin condition [eczema ] after the seven-month-old lost 1.6 kilograms and almost died.
The 62 year old naturopath was sentenced on Thursday afternoon to 14 months in prison, with a non-parole period of seven months, for being responsible in the baby’s starvation.
She first advised this in February 2015,who cannot be identified for legal reasons, to go on raw food only in order to heal her then-6-month-old son’s eczema, saying that the skin condition then could be as a result of the mother’s diet and also toxins in her body. But the son, was being breastfed absolutely at the time, as referred to in court by the pseudonym “Tony”.
Bodnar advised this mother to keep going, after she commenced on the diet on 10 April 2015, which resulted to the mother and baby losing weight, for the reason that, Tony was fat and needed to lose weight. After Tony had high temperatures in early to mid-May, Bodnar told the mother to stop eating altogether and drink only water.
“The situation reached a critical stage on or around the 21st of May 2015 when Tony was unsettled. His mother believed he needed more food,” District Court Judge Peter Berman told the court.
“Ms Bodnar suggested that she could give him some goat’s milk but when the mother tried this, Tony vomited it up. Ms Bodnar suggested that the mother try to dilute the goat’s milk with water and try again but Tony vomited that also.”
The mother decided to take Tony to a GP after six weeks of the diet, and was referred to a children’s hospital, where doctors believe he would have died within days if he had not received medical treatment.
By this time, the baby had gone from weighing 8 kilograms to 6.4 kilograms, was in a “shrunken state” and had lost body fat and muscles, and as a result looking pale and dehydrated.
“The criminal law does not often get involved in the choice of a person to give or to accept advice based on alternatives to conventional medicine,” Berman told the Downing Centre courtroom, populated mostly by journalists, on Thursday afternoon.
“Thus 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 when people are harmed – or almost killed – by such advice, the law must intervene, he said.
“Those who purport to be qualified to give medical advice, whether doctors or not, have an obligation to provide advice which is based on proved results, not merely fake science and faith.”
Marilyn Bodnar had pleaded guilty to the charge of aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring the mother in committing a criminal offence – this means, failing to provide Tony with what his life requires. The charge has a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Berman said her crime was “objectively serious” because she gave the advice over a period of three months, but it might be that she either didn’t monitor or ignored Tony’s health during this time, and also because of Tony’s age [he is still tender]. Berman told the court, “It’s not as though Tony was able to feed himself’’.
Tony’s had a delayed development over the course of his mother’s six-week diet, at eight months, he had the development of a 3-month-old, and this made him stay in hospital for more than a month after being admitted in May 2015.
“He still needs to be assessed by medical experts over the next few years in order to ascertain whether or not he will suffer any long-term developmental delays as a result of what has happened to him,” Berman said. Though no prison guards were present as the sentence was handed down, so Bodnar quietly spoke with her lawyers for a few minutes as she waited in the dock. She asked “Now?” when the guards explained they were taking her downstairs to the cells, before reluctantly handing over her phone and glasses case to her lawyers and leaving the courtroom.
As he explained the sentence, Berman said it was “a serious thing to do” to imprison a 62-year-old woman with no criminal history, but he felt a custodial sentence both reflected the gravity of the offence and deterred others from doing something similar.
“It is a serious matter, but not necessarily a crime, to tell a breastfeeding mother to restrict her diet,” he said.
“It is even more serious when such advice continues after being told that both the mother and child have lost weight. And it is serious indeed and highly criminal for such advice to continue to the state where a child was at risk of death within a few days, in circumstances where the person giving the advice hadn’t even seen the state the child was in as a result of his or her advice being followed.”
According to Berman ; Bodnar has suffered significantly since the charges were brought, noting that her business had suffered, she had been abused on social media, and that her stress had to led to symptoms of anxiety and depression. The lawyer to Bodnar’s earlier on Thursday had told the court that she would never treat children again. Though Tony’s mother sentence of 14 months in prison was suspended due to the fact that she wants to testify against Bodnar.