A now five-year-old boy who suffers from spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy was taken from the care of his parents more than 100 days ago.
On May 19, NSW police and Family and Community Services (FACS) officers removed the boy from Newcastle’s Church of Ubuntu where he’d been staying.
The boy has been at the centre of a controversial debate over the benefits of alternative therapies, such as medicinal cannabis, versus those of traditional western medicine, including the use of vaccinations.
The church’s external consultant – a doctor experienced in the administration of cannabis medication – had been treating the boy with cannabis oil to combat his severe epileptic seizures. It was reported that under this treatment, the child had gone fifty days without a seizure.
Along with the medical marijuana, the boy was also on an organic diet for which a dietitian had been consulted. The boy’s mother reportedly found that pharmaceutical medicines had an adverse impact on her son’s health, while he had shown a marked improvement after plant-based treatments were applied.
Ongoing health concerns
In late April, a blood test taken at hospital revealed the boy’s potassium levels were at a “critically abnormal level.” Medical staff told the boy’s parents it was important these levels be checked again by May 17.
As FACS workers and police removed the boy, his mother reportedly said she’d planned to take him to see a doctor on the following Monday.
Section 43(1) of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 allows for the warrantless removal of a child or young person if the secretary of FACS or police deem the individual to be “at immediate risk of serious harm.”
On July 18, the Supreme Court of NSW issued short minutes of order prohibiting the secretary of the Church of Ubuntu, the boy’s treating doctor, their servants and agents from publishing the name and any image of the child or the child’s parents, names and images of medical practitioners providing services to the child, or the proceedings in the Children’s Court.
For abundant caution, this article has omitted reference to the child’s name and image, the name of the relevant hospitals and treating doctor, and details of the Children’s Court proceedings.
It is believed the boy is currently being held at a hospital or in residential care, as he requires full-time attention.
His parents and members of the church have reportedly expressed concerns that his health will deteriorate further as a result of being treated with pharmaceutical medicines and non-organic food.
A private prosecution of government
Paul Robert Burton is the secretary and public officer of the Church of Ubuntu. He describes the church as an “all-encompassing multi-faith group” that runs a wellness clinic and provides help to those in need. This includes providing patients with whole plant cannabis medicines.
A consultant doctor began working with the boy back in August last year, Mr Burton said. He added that the parents of the boy were just taking “on a responsible practice with their child.” And they were “caring for their child themselves, and doing what they could to assist his quality of life.”
Mr Burton told Sydney Criminal Lawyers® that the church has filed a private prosecution against the officer who removed the boy. “We are taking the FACS worker to court on the grounds of misfeasance,” he said, for “coming into our church, and removing one of our members forcibly.”
Misfeasance is the unlawful use of power by a public officer. It allows for a plaintiff to recover for the loss or damage caused by the action taken by a holder of public office if it is shown the officer acted in bad faith or knew their action was beyond their power.
That case will come before Newcastle Local Court on September 28. Mr Burton said that it will be a chance to bring everyone involved in the removal incident together, including the police. “We can bring them all in and question them,” he said.
Earlier this year, the boy was the subject of an interstate amber alert, which is a child abduction notification. The Queensland police issued the alert after the boy’s parents took their child from a hospital on April 27 this year.
According to members of the church, the boy’s parents had taken him to hospital for treatment.
NSW police officers located the boy in Newcastle on the following day. He was then taken to hospital, before being released back into the care of his parents.
The boy’s parents recall that he’d been born a healthy baby, but after being administered with a vitamin K injection, his seizures began. Subsequent doses of hepatitis B vaccine had led to a further decline in his health.
The child’s mother has denied that she is an anti-vaccination advocate. She said she merely stopped the vaccinations once they had an adverse effect on her son. Indeed, her older child was vaccinated.
Prohibiting vital medicine
The Church of Ubuntu was one of the largest suppliers of medicinal cannabis products in the country, with over 2,000 clients. They were providing patients with small plants to grow at home to treat cancer and to ease the symptoms of extreme epilepsy.
On December 1 last year, NSW police raided the church’s dispensary. This was despite the group having been open about their operations for quite some time.
Days after the raid, co-founder of the church Karen Burge said, “The police have been informed many times. We also invited Mike Baird here at Dan Haslam’s funeral.” She said the former premier had been told what they were doing and invited him to see their operation.
Although, the boy in question was taken from his parents due to his potassium levels, many believe that the fact he was being treated with an illegal substance like medicinal cannabis was another factor in his removal.
“Even though that’s not the reason that is given, we’ve also lost other children too,” Mr Burton said. “They’re just forcibly taking children from loving families that are on the cannabis program.”
Mr Burton believes that if this case took place in one of the 29 US states where medicinal cannabis is legal, the boy would still be with his parents.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.