Sunday, February 15, 2009

Appalling: New doubt over 'shaken baby' theory that sent dozens of women to jail

Medical arrogance again

A medical theory that has led to dozens of women being jailed for shaking babies to death has been called into question by a new study. Researchers found a combination of injuries, known as the triad, which doctors use to diagnose ‘abuse’, may occur naturally in babies. The evidence could now be used in a string of appeals – including the case of childminder Keran Henderson, currently serving three years for manslaughter over the death of 11-month-old Maeve Sheppard.

Medical experts argued that Maeve’s injuries suggested that she had been violently shaken. But Henderson, of Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, said the baby had a fit while she was changing her nappy. Her lawyer, leading child-abuse expert Bill Bache, said: ‘I’m already aware of this research and I’m absolutely sure it will be used in appeal cases. It is very likely we will use it in Keran Henderson’s appeal.’ Mr Bache said the evidence may also be used in at least four further cases.

Researchers looked at 55 babies who had died of brain haemorrhages either before birth or shortly afterwards and who had never been out of hospital. All had the symptoms normally consistent with a diagnosis of ‘shaken baby syndrome’ – bleeding on the brain and retinas, swelling of the brain and oxygen deficiency. But they could not have been exposed to violence because they were being cared for by medical professionals. The study concluded the symptoms are common in newborns and could be caused by genetic conditions or by a traumatic birth.

One of the lead researchers, Irene Scheimberg, from Bart’s and The London NHS Trust, said: ‘We may be sending to jail parents who lost their children through no fault of their own. Our research shows that haemorrhage of the part of the brain known as the sub dura is quite common in newborns. 'We also know that many of these bleeds resolve themselves – with no outward sign of damage in the first few weeks of life and these children grow up to live a normal life.’

But she said in some children the bleeding can continue and get worse – and they then show the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. 'These are the children who the courts suspect have been harmed by their parents. To start to suggest that some babies have been harmed – without additional evidence – is dangerous,’ she warned.

The ‘triad’ of symptoms first came to public attention in 1998 in the US trial of British au pair Louise Woodward, convicted of killing baby Matthew Eappen. Around 200 cases of ‘shaken baby syndrome’ are diagnosed in Britain every year and many accused of abuse continue to protest their innocence.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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