Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Real?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

premature baby, hands (flickr: Matt Davis)

Melonie Ware was a daycare provider in Georgia who was sentenced to life in prison for shaking a nine-month-old baby to death in 2004. But in a 2009 retrial, a court declared that the medical examiner's findings were insufficient, concluding that the baby most likely died because complications due to sickle-cell anemia, and acquitted Ware.

Doctors have credited hundreds of untimely infant deaths to shaken baby syndrome over the years. But more and more, medical experts are starting to doubt that baby shaking was the cause of death in certain cases. A new Frontline documentary, airing tonight on PBS stations, examines some of these cases, including Ware's. 


A.C. Thompson joins us to speak about the film, "The Child Cases."  Thompson was a reporter and correspondent for the film, and also reports for ProPublica. Dr. Jon Thogmartin, Florida’s district six medical examiner appears in the Frontline special. He joins us from Clearwater, Fla.

Guests:

Jon Thogmartin and A.C. Thompson

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [7]

The point is whether innocent people are routinely convicted based on an unproven but widely accepted medical theory---which they are. While the triad can result from a violent assault, it can also result from a host of non-abusive causes, including bleeding and metabolic disorders, vitamin deficiencies, and infection. After a decade in the arena, I've seen many cases where prosecutors ignored alternative explanations in the child's medical record because the first responders were so sure they'd identified a victim of abuse. Please see other examples of these hasty calls on my SBS site at http://onsbs.com/prologue/ and http://onsbs.com/cases/another-disturbing-case/

Jan. 11 2012 01:17 PM
Sue Luttner from San Francisco Bay Area

The point is whether innocent people are routinely convicted based on an unproven but widely accepted medical theory. While the triad can result from a violent assault, it can also result from a host of benign causes, including bleeding and metabolic disorders, vitamin deficiencies, and infection. After a decade in the arena, I've seen many cases where prosecutors ignored alternative explanations in the child's medical record because the first responders were so sure they'd identified a victim of abuse. Please see other examples of these hasty calls on my SBS site at http://onsbs.wordpress.com/prologue/ and http://onsbs.wordpress.com/cases/another-disturbing-case/

Jun. 30 2011 12:44 AM
rioch from United Kingdom

A point of clarification: 3 things:

1. Shaking an infant out of frustration and anger is child abuse and DOES exist.

2. Shaken Baby Syndrome DOES NOT exist as no laboratory experiments (for obvious reasons) have ever taken place - where an infant has been shaken to see what happens.

Therefore SBS is based on a flawed theory not medicine or science.

3. Shaken Baby as a 'syndrome' - is where you would expect to find a repeating set of features, as you would find with Downs Syndrome or Treacher Collins Syndrome.

SBS is a theory and is often used blanket fashion to explain bleeds in babies at the expense of other conditions which are fact and can be proven medically and scientifically.

Problem:

None of the above 3 points will prevent children being abused or parents/carers being wrongly accused whatever the type of injury - accidental or non-accidental.

A protocol such as 24:14 will.

24:14 will ensure that science and medicine are put back into the centre of medical diagnosis of child abuse rather than conjecture and hearsay.

We the Five Percenters are campaigning for 24:14 - a protocol for hospital ER departments worldwide.

Too often children are not seen by paediatric specialists.

24:14 would ensure that all children are seen by the right paediatrician when admitted to ER.

24:14 will provide clear diagnosis in cases of child abuse and non-abuse by including tests for underlying conditions that mimic injuries associated with abuse – as routine.

*The Five Percenters stands for the 1 in 20 cases misdiagnosed as Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Jun. 28 2011 03:50 PM
Brian Lopez

The AAP, NAME, and AAO published positions statements recognizing SBS and each describe their discipline’s role in its diagnosis and response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a SBS prevention guide for health departments and community organizations and calls SBS a “public health issue” on the CDC website. The Department of Defense (DoD) authorized an SBS prevention initiative in 2007 and continues to provide SBS prevention education throughout the world. Several states, including New York, Texas and Ohio, have passed legislation that require SBS training for child care providers and/or distribution of SBS prevention materials to parents of new babies. Seems like some very large organizations and resources devoted to the prevention of something that "is not real."

Jun. 28 2011 03:37 PM

This, unfortunately, is one more ppportunity to learn about the role cognitive biases play in focusing the attention of the media, shaping content and ultimately popular beliefs.
Root cause: we pay much more attention to a single narrative than to a thousand cases. One death is a tragedy, a million is just a statistic.
But that's just human nature being what it is. By telling those stories, the media is largely an enabler, although it could be more.
In recent memory, there have been two exhaustive reviews of SBS prosecutions. The Goldsmith inquiry in the UK, and the case review that followed the Goudge report in Ontario.
If memory serves, there was a different outcome in 3-5% of the SBS cases that were reviewed.
In contrast, when the Innocence Project challenged death row convictions involving eyewitness testimony using DNA evidence, there was an exoneration in about 30% of those cases.
So, if there is a competent investigation and prosecution of an alleged SBS case, the outcome seems much more likely to be correct than a case which involves eyewitness testimony to the crime.
Anyone think it's likely our justice system will start to completely disregard eyewitness testimony?
Which is not to say that there aren't tragedies heaped upon tragedies.

For each child who dies of an inflicted injury, there are likely two who survive with brain trauma. Some live a lifetime with impairments, some die a few years later from the consequences.
For each child whose perpetrator is prosecuted, there is likely three with obvious inflicted injuries whose perpetrator is not, and perhaps twice as many with inflicted injuries that are not obvious.
For each person wrongly convicted, there is likely a perpetrator at large.
The greatest tragedy is the media focus on crime and punishment.
For the cost of perhaps one or two contested trials, New York supports a hospital based SBS prevention program for new parents that has reduced the incidence of inflicted head injury by 50%.
In the last two years, it expanded statewide.
Each year, that means 47 children in New York will not be injured.
Each year, that will save Medicaid about $2 million dollars in medical costs.
Each year, it will save the education system about $5,000,000 in special education costs.
Each year, it will save the state about $12,000,000 in the cost of incarceration, foster care and other expenses that attend a case of child abuse.
And, of course, it saves families, caregivers and children the injury and the consequences that follow.
That's a good thing.
Unfortunately, it's apparently just not news.

PS. For those who argue that shaken baby syndrome doesn't exist - as opposed to those who argue about its applicability to the facts and circumstances of a particular case - the reduction in inflicted head injuries that follows education programs for new parents undercuts the premise a bit.

Jun. 28 2011 01:06 PM
Rioch from United Kingdom

Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is not real.

BUT

Shaking a baby is a violent act and is real.

For 14 years, I have run The *Five Percenters for families who state that they have been wrongly accused of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

We have helped over 4,000 families in the UK, US and worldwide.

9 other conditions that mimic child abuse have been identified.

150 legal teams have used our service.

We are campaigning for 24:14 - a protocol for hospitals worldwide.

Too often children are not seen by paediatric specialists.

24:14 would ensure that all children are seen by the right paediatrician when admitted to A&E or ER.

24:14 will provide clear diagnosis in cases of child abuse and non-abuse.

*The Five Percenters stands for the 1 in 20 cases misdiagnosed as Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Jun. 28 2011 11:59 AM
Shannon

A point of clarification: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is an unexplained infant death, NOT a death caused by unsafe sleeping conditions. The two are often used interchangeably, even by professionals, but are not the same.

Jun. 28 2011 08:13 AM

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