Deaths in the afternoon

by Terry Polevoy, M.D.

21 September 1999

Another senseless death of an Ontario pre-teen reached the pages of Canadian.

What are parents supposed to do when there is a death in the afternoon?

Earlier this summer, Lauren Poduch, a 9 year old Waterloo girl died after she was joy riding unsupervised on a personal water craft with three other kids who were all under age 14 while they were at a friend's family cottage in Muskoka. The owners of the craft are liable under the law because they allowed access to those craft to someone under age 16.

When 10 year old Rebecca Shaw died last weekend in a school yard near Stratford, she was with her father, and yet he is not responsible for her death. She was just having fun on public property on a motorized bike.

In Edmonton, Alberta this week, the parents of a 5 year old boy named Leslie Shaw were charged with criminal negligence in his death. This child had been the subject of numerous complaints to the police because of his unsupervised excursions into heavy traffic.

One could argue that if a child slipped on a banana peel at a church picnic and died of a subdural hematoma that you could sue the owner of the property for negligence for not keeping their property clear of hazardous objects.

So, what will we do to protect our children? It is obvious that the Ontario legislators don't really give a damn about their precious resources. The laws of Ontario say that as long as a parent is supervising a child under age 12 on a motorized vehicle that is off-road, that they are exempt from prosecution.

What does that mean? If Rebecca had hot-wired a motorized bicycle and snuck off without her parents knowledge, and she crashed into a tree on a main street and died, the Province could come after her parents. But, since the "accident" (not my choice of words), occured on taxpayers property, a school parking lot, and it's "off-road", no one can be charged.

As a pediatrician, I am fed up with lame excuses by parents. I am tired of the news media always calling these events "accidents".

When will the parents of our children face the music, and take full responsibility for their negligence?

Sure, if these kids had died while playing soccer, or from jumping on a trampoline or diving in the shallow end of a swimming pool, those would be considered accidents.

WE have allowed ourselves to be convinced that parents are almost never at fault when their kids die. When a parent smokes and falls asleep, it's an accident when four children die in a townhouse, it's the cigarette that caused the fire, not the idiot at the other end of it who fell asleep, or who left their lighter around while shooting up drugs or passed out on the bed upstairs.

When friends used to drive drunk, it was an accident. My how things have changed.

There will be more horror stories and more funerals for young Canadian children because some parents don't get it. When you bring life into this world, you have the burden on your shoulders to protect that life.

All of us, if we see a child who is in danger because their parents allow them to operate motorbikes, to take out personal water craft under age, or who ignore repeated requests to get their kids' who insist on performing stunts on skateboards in front of a busy school should have a visit from an officer of the law.

Perhaps if parents were ticketed and made to show up in court, it might save themselves a visit from the coroner the next time.

This article appeared as an editorial second opinion in The Record on September 27, 1999. It is not available on their site. You can view news from Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario by going to The Record's home page.

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    Dr. Terry Polevoy
    105 University Ave. E.
    Waterloo, Ontario, N2J 2W1 Canada
    519-725-2263 -- 725-4953 fax


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