Since 2001, there have been nearly 2,000 dispositions in the United States involving children being violently shaken, says a new investigative feature published today in the
. Of those cases, charges were dropped or dismissed or convictions were overturned in 213 instances when doctors took a closer look at medical records and saw that the children who were said to have been injured or killed by Shaken Baby Syndrome were actually misdiagnosed. The
explores a number of those cases and why the science behind the syndrome is being questioned by the medical community.
Among the experts interviewed by the
is Dr. Jonathan Arden, one of the country’s leading forensic pathologists, who made Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnoses in dozens of cases. Around 10 years ago, Arden told the
, emerging research around the syndrome caused him to question whether the symptoms long associated with intense shaking—among them bleeding on the brain and behind the eyes—could in fact be the consequences of other causes, such as accidents and illnesses. That research and the fact that the theory cannot be scientifically validated with certainty (doctors can’t do experiments on actual babies), led him to stop diagnosing the syndrome.
According to the
increasingly, doctors like Arden, who once supported the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome—including Dr. A. Norman Guthkelch, the British pediatric neurosurgeon who helped to introduce the theory behind the syndrome in the 1970s—now say that the underlying science is faulty and that more research is needed. While many doctors now believe that violently shaking a baby can indeed cause physical harm, they say that new science demonstrates that retinal hemorrhaging and bleeding and swelling of the brain can result from a range of causes; they should not be taken as automatic indicators of violent shaking. In the very least, report the doctors, Shaken Baby Syndrome is over diagnosed.
As a result, as the
illustrates through various cases, over the years, innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of killing or abusing children that actually suffered injuries from accidents—such as falling from couches or beds—or who were ill. Some doctors, including Arden and Guthkelch, now testify on behalf of people—parents, babysitters, grandparents—who are on trial for or have been convicted of causing Shaken Baby Syndrome. Some of these testimonies have helped to get the convictions of innocent people overturned or have prevented innocent people from going to prison.
Dr. Guthkelch told the
: “I am doing what I can so long as I have a breath to correct a grossly unjust situation. . . . I think they’ve gone much too far.”