Thursday, 19 May 2011

SIDS: Film on Doctor Southall and Munchausen by Proxy

Cutting Edge: A Very Dangerous Doctor (Channel 4) was more of a moral minefield, though that's not how any of those featured in the programme saw it. In the late 1980s and early 90s Professor David Southall, a paediatrician specialising in sudden infant death syndrome, became convinced that many cot deaths were actually cases of homicide caused by parents suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. His research was widely accepted within the medical profession and as a result of his evidence more than 30 parents were prosecuted and many more had their children placed in care.
Then the backlash started. People began to question Southall's research methodology and the courts and social services started to find in favour of the parents he had accused of endangering their children. Southall remains adamant that everyone he accused was definitely guilty, despite his being suspended, struck off and reinstated over the years, while a parents' collective maintains his guilt and has continued its efforts to expose him as a fraud who destroyed their lives.
Leo Regan's latest film was unusual in giving equal airtime to both parties and it avoided reaching any definite conclusions. Mainly because there were none to be reached. My own gut feeling was that not all of the parents could possibly have done what Southall claimed, but equally it did not seem credible that Southall could have been such a danger as some thought. But neither party was prepared to contemplate this scenario and the message that shone through in the end wasn't the rights and wrongs of the medical issues but how 20 years of litigation narrows the mind and corrupts the soul

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