Saturday, 12 February 2011

Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions Overturned As Doctors Question the Diagnosis

carolyncastiglia on February 3rd, 2011

4152882810 3d27a3e364 300x237 Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions Overturned As Doctors Question the Diagnosis
New evidence suggests not all cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome are caused by shaking.
Imagine having been sent to jail for shaking a child who later died, except you know you didn’t shake that child, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Then imagine — based on “fierce disagreement among doctors about the shaken-baby diagnosis” — that after 11 years in jail, your conviction was overturned, and you were set free.  Only by then, your husband had divorced you and taken your three daughters to live with him.
That frightening tale is the real life story of Audrey Edmunds, a former secretary who left her job to start an in-home daycare.  In the early 90s, one of her charges, 7-month-old Natalie Beard, “suddenly collapsed while drinking a bottle of milk” and was found to have “the triad of shaken-baby symptoms.”  Natalie died, and Edmunds was convicted of “first-degree reckless homicide.”
According to Emily Bazelon’s New York Times expose on the problems with the Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis, “A small but growing number of doctors warn that there can be alternate explanations — infections or bleeding disorders, for example — for the triad of symptoms associated with shaken-baby syndrome.”  
This is the central argument of Bazelon’s lengthy piece.  She goes on to say, “Across the country, the group of lawyers that has succeeded in exonerating hundreds of people based on DNA evidence is now mounting 20 to 25 appeals of shaken-baby convictions.”  The term “Shaken Baby Syndrome” first became popular in the medical community in the 80s, after two pediatric specialists each wrote papers asserting that “unexplained subdural bleeding in babies could occur without direct impact to the head and with or without a visible neck injury.”  Doctors believed “that shaking could generate the same terrible force as throwing a child from a second-­story window.”
Then, in 1987, “a neurosurgeon named Ann-Christine Duhaime published a paper that included the autopsy results of 13 babies with symptoms associated with shaken-baby syndrome.  In all of them she found evidence of trauma that was actually caused by impact.”  Duhaime believed it wasn’t shaking a baby that caused it to be injured but rather dropping them afterwards, “even if they hit a soft surface like a bed or a couch.”
A 2001 study “found that most babies with the triad of shaken-baby symptoms suffered not from a rupture of the nerve fibers of the brain but rather from a lack of blood caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain’s cells.”  According to the paper, “This can explain how a child with the triad of shaken-baby symptoms could, for some period of time, seem fussy or lethargic or stop eating or sleeping well.”  Meaning that a child can appear lucid for several hours, days or weeks even before passing out from head trauma, forcing the medical establishment to conclude that there are “questions about whether the last person to care for a child before he or she stops breathing is necessarily guilty of abuse.”
Accordingly, in 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a position paper by Cindy Christian recommending “that doctors use the more general term abusive head trauma,” which implies that said trauma can occur from something other than shaking, such as — in the case of Philipp Baumer — stroke.  Baumer was removed from his home as an infant because of a child abuse conviction, yet even after the conviction was overturned he was not reunited with his birth parents.  (See page 7 of the article for his unbelievable story.)
Audrey Edmunds, the mother I mentioned at the beginning of this post, has now been out of prison for three years.  Despite having a strained relationship with her three daughters, she seems to have a peaceful perspective on her incarceration.  She explained that “she had to come to terms with the drive to prosecute her,” telling Bazelon, “A baby has died.  They want to blame somebody.”

1 comment:

  1. My friend is living this nightmare right now. She had a state approved in-home daycare center for nearly 18 years. In 2008 he had a 1 year old come to her and in was in her care for one day. Later that evening the child fell ill and was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with SBS. She had no bruises, no scratches, no bumps, no broken bones, just the triad of symptoms. Stephanie was immediately suspected and promptly charged with aggravated child abuse. When the child later died, her charges jumped to first degree murder. Days prior to coming to Stephanie's, the child had received vaccinations. Was not considered to be relevant. The child had some underlying genetic disorder. Was not considered to be relevant. Experts said the bleeding had to have been happening for days prior to being at Stephanie's, possibly as much as a week prior. Other experts said impossible. After only 4 days of trial, a confused jury deliberated for 20 hours before deciding Stephanie's fate on 2/16/12 - manslaughter with a maximum of 15 years in prison. Stephanie is currently awaiting her sentence.