A judge in Belgium has handed down a suspended six-month jail sentence to two parents whose seventh-month old baby died, possibly as a result of a vegan diet that led to undernourishment and organ failure.

Baby Lucas weighed nine pounds at the time of his death, which is at least seven pounds underweight according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an organisation which promotes healthy lifestyles and methods of preventing illness.

Belgian judge Mieke Butstraen sentenced the child's parents over the death of their baby. The couple, who owned a health food store in Beveren, close to Antwerp, had fed Lucas on vegetable milk made of "oak, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa," according to the BBC.

At the time of his death, Lucas' organs had shrunk to half their normal size. The sad case is another in a series to have hit headlines around the world surrounding vegan parenting.

In 2015, a father in Italy took his child's mother to court after she forced it to eat vegetarian, while two other Italian parents lost custody of their 14-month due to their child's vegan diet, with doctors at Fatebenfratelli Hospital believing the baby lacked fundamental nutrients, causing his unrelated congenital heart condition to worsen.

Some vegan food. Credit: Creative Commons

Experts believe that it is difficult - though not impossible - to feed a baby a balanced, healthy vegan diet. Broadly recently reported the British Nutrition Foundation's Dr. Lucy Chambers as saying: "It is possible to feed a baby a vegan diet, but you need to plan carefully to ensure the baby is getting enough nutrients of concern. The risks of nutrient deficiencies are much higher [on a vegan diet]. It is possible to feed a baby a healthy, balanced diet that is also vegan, but you need to be very well informed."

Though rearing a child through a vegan diet is controversial, it was noted that the case in Belgium was complicated by numerous factors, with the parents' defense lawyer arguing that the case was not clear cut. For example, the mother, who testified as Sandrina V, had not lactated, and when the baby was offered formula it refused, leading his parents to presume he was lactose intolerant.

However, it was alleged by prosecutors that the couple had travelled across Belgium to see a homeopathic specialist and that Lucas had never seen a social worker or doctor. The child's mother testified. "Sometimes he gained a little weight, sometimes he lost a little. We never wished for the death of our son," while his father stated "We never went with Lucas to a doctor because we never noticed anything unusual."

The case is unlikely to be the last involving parents who eschew traditional medicine and dieting advice, with numerous parents around the world choosing to forego common vaccinations due to unfounded fears over their safety.

Summing up the case, Judge Bustraen said: "The [death was the] result of the systematic offer of food which was not suitable," he argued. "His health was seriously impeded, and he eventually died."

Words: Ronan O'Shea

Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons

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