Supreme Court sides with naturopath in manslaughter, negligence case

OTTAWA — A Quebec naturopath is not guilty of manslaughter or criminal negligence in the death of a patient, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

Roger Matern, an 84-year-old with heart disease, visited Mitra Javanmardi's clinic in 2008 at the suggestion of a friend because he was frustrated with conventional treatments.

After discussing his condition, Javanmardi gave him nutrients intravenously. Matern insisted on the treatment even though Javanmardi had advised him she did not usually administer injections on a first visit.

Although such injections by naturopaths are legal in most provinces, the practice is not lawful in Quebec.

Matern reacted poorly to the injection, which combined nutrients from three vials. He complained of being hot and nauseated and was given honey and orange juice, as Javanmardi thought he might be having a hypoglycemic reaction — a problem with not having enough sugar in his system.

Matern did not want to go to the hospital, so his wife and daughter took him home. Javanmardi told the daughter by phone later that day that Matern should be taken to a hospital if she was unable to keep him hydrated.

An ambulance was called that night and doctors at the hospital noted signs of septic shock. Matern died a short time later due to bacterial contamination in one of the vials used during the nutrient injection. 

Javanmardi was charged with unlawful-act manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death.

A judge acquitted her on both counts, ruling that Javanmardi had the skills to administer intravenous injections even if she was not authorized to do so under Quebec law.

The Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the manslaughter acquittal, finding Javanmardi guilty on that count, and ordered a new trial on the charge of criminal negligence.

In its 5-2 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court restored the acquittals.

Javanmardi, who opened her clinic in 1985, has a science degree from McGill University, a doctorate from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Oregon and a related diploma that entailed 500 hours of additional training.

Javanmardi had injected nutrients intravenously to about 10 patients a week for many years.

The Supreme Court said the trial judge's factual findings amply supported the conclusion that an intravenous injection, given properly by a qualified naturopath, did not pose a foreseeable risk of bodily harm in the circumstances.

In writing for the majority, Justice Rosalie Abella said the trial judge was satisfied that Javanmardi had the necessary skills to administer injections, observed the required protocols and took sufficient precautions at every stage of the process.

There was no basis for overturning the judge's findings or her conclusion that Javanmardi's actions were generally consistent with those expected of a reasonable person. "It was not open to the Court of Appeal, with respect, to reweigh the evidence or substitute its own factual findings on this critical issue," Abella wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Richard Wagner said there should be a new trial on both charges.

Injecting someone with a substance is "objectively dangerous" due to the inherent risks, and Javanmardi's depth of experience does not change this, Wagner wrote.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press