Alberta's Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley and her MLAs used the death of a 14-year-old-boy to attack Premier Jason Kenney over his government's handling of the COVID pandemic. While initial reports claimed Nathanael Spitzer's death was COVID-related, family members took to social media to clarify he passed from stage 4 brain cancer, as first reported by the Western Standard.
On Tuesday, Nathanael's sister Simone Spitzer called out Alberta Health for labelling her younger brother's death as COVID-related. "The 14-year-old … is my brother. He died from stage 4 brain cancer, not from Covid," she said.
"He was diagnosed in January 2021 and hospitalized in August. Two days before his death, he was tested for Covid, [which] turned out positive… please share and comment that this is fake," added Spitzer.
Devastated by their loss, the Spitzer family vented their frustrations with Alberta Health using Nathanael's passing to the COVID death tally. Justine Spitzer, his other sister, called it "fake news."
NDP leader Rachel Notley seemingly undermined the role "pre-existing conditions" contributed to Nathanael's passing and attributed it COVID. She then pivoted to criticize Alberta's government and Alberta Health.
"A child has died of COVID-19. They were just 14," she tweeted. "Telling their loved ones that there were other health complications that contributed to their death offers no comfort whatsoever."
"No matter what 'pre-existing conditions' they had, this child died during a fourth wave that was preventable. This shouldn't have happened. We need to know what will be done to stop it from happening again."
Thomas Dang, the NDP MLA for Edmonton South, followed, tweeting: "For the 12% of us in Alberta who have asthma, downplaying the death of a 14-year-old for comorbidities is the opposite of comforting. This is a life-snuffed short. It's a tragedy and a disaster."
A Twitter user replied: "His sisters have spoken out. He had stage 4 brain cancer, [and] was in hospital and palliative. [He] tested positive two days before cancer took him." The user recommended Dang delete the tweet.
Shannon Phillips, the NDP MLA for Lethbridge West, tweeted her frustrations with the province's COVID response, adding: "If you're a 14-year-old with a disability or a health condition, I want you to know you matter to me. I want you to know your life should be as full of potential and optimism as anyone else's."
Another Twitter user said, "Announcing the tragic death of this child as a COVID death without mentioning the other health conditions would be incomplete. People are entitled to the truth." Others claimed that pointing out Nathanael's brain cancer was done to "comfort anti-vaxxers" and "is the language of FB anti-vaxxers."
Janis Irwin, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, also tweeted: "I can't stop thinking about this. A family is grieving the loss of their child in a fourth preventable wave. I don't care what other medical conditions this child had. They are gone. We need to all fight for better. This cannot happen again."
Irwin also retweeted a post from Dr. Quentin Durand-Moreau in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine. "This disheartens me," reads the tweet about Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who mentioned the 14-year-old boy's "complex, pre-existing condition that played a role in their death."
"But I don't understand why we persist in mentioning the 'pre-existing condition': is COVID involved (y/n), and if yes, it was, therefore, an avoidable death with better public health policies. Comorbidities do not matter."
Simone Spitzer shared the link to a GoFundMe page the family set up "In loving memory of Nathanael Spitzer." The page, set up to assist with funeral expenses and the financial toll on them, referenced his courageous bout with brain cancer that led to his passing on October 7.
"Nati was quite the entertainer, always quick with a smile, fast with a joke and will be deeply missed by his family and friends," the Spitzer family shared on the page. The donation option has since been disabled as the family "reached our goal" for the funeral costs.