"It used to be that the assumption was that every time you had evidence of the shaking -- medical evidence -- that you knew, you assumed that the baby would immediately stop breathing and go into a coma ...
Now doctors acknowledge ... that in at least a few cases it's possible for a child to remain conscious for some amount of time."
This throws into question whether the last caretaker was always the abuser. In addition, says Bazelon, the symptoms that used to be considered an assurance of shaken-baby syndrome could possibly be caused by bleeding disorders or certain accidental falls.
In some ways it's hard to believe it's taken so long for major media like NPR and the New York Times to question the blanket-diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome (SBS).
For too long, too many parents and child caretakers have been accused of murder or manslaughter by a system that assumes that any baby with retinal hemorrhages, bleeding around the brain, and/or brain swelling has been shaken.
Signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome Sometimes Lead to False Accusations
They call it the "triad," and as the NPR and New York Times examples show, if your baby is limp and unresponsive – or dead – and exhibits even one of the triad symptoms, you may find yourself handcuffed and behind bars, and accused of killing your baby.
It's a serious form of child abuse, and child protective services (CPS) have been put on notice through numerous state and federal laws that they are to report it immediately if they suspect that a baby has been shaken.
Other SBS injuries can include blood spots in the eyes, lethargy, semi-consciousness, seizures, vomiting, extreme irritability, bruises on the body, and broken bones. But even when none of these other symptoms are detected, it's almost a given that once an SBS report is made, the suspect – usually a parent or a caretaker – is assumed guilty.
According to the National Shaken Baby Coalition (NSBC), as many as 1,500 babies a year are shaken by their parents, and either severely injured or killed.
It's true that there are parents who shake their babies, like the Florida mother who was so obsessed with playing an online game that she admitted shaking her baby to death when the baby's cries interrupted her.
But it's also true that more and more parents are claiming that they are innocent, that they didn't shake their babies, and that they could never do anything to hurt them.
Cries of Innocence Escalating
The cries of innocence have led to websites and blogs that question how SBS is defined, including The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that fights for the rights of people who have been wrongly accused of a crime.
The New York Times tippy-toed into this area last year, with an opinion piece by Deborah Tuerkheimer, a law professor and former assistant district attorney who questioned how SBS is defined.
"Despite the shift in scientific consensus, debate about the legitimacy of the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis continues," Tuerkheimer said.
"Some scientists point to studies using dummies modeled on the anatomy of infants as evidence that shaking cannot possibly generate sufficient force to cause the triad of symptoms — or that it could not do so without also causing injury to the infant's neck or spinal cord."
Citing instances of where science is eroding the medical basis of shaken baby syndrome, Tuerkheimer cautioned prosecutors, judges and juries to exercise greater skepticism when finding people guilty of shaking a baby.
"The triad of symptoms alone cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an infant has been fatally shaken," Tuerkheimer said.
While neither Tuerkheimer nor the New York Times offered any ideas on what else could cause a baby to die unexpectedly with SBS-like symptoms, the fact that they are finally questioning the blanket diagnosis is a step in the right direction.
What Else Could Cause this Kind of Harm?
So if Shaken Baby Syndrome is a questionable diagnosis in these cases, what else could explain the symptoms that these babies die with?
The answer isn't as hard to root out as some people might think.
Dr. David Ayoub is a clinical radiologist and physician whose work I admire, and whose expertise I often rely on. He also has extensive experience in identifying lesions caused by vitamin deficiencies such as rickets.
And vitamin D deficiency is a hidden problem that Dr. Ayoub has found that can cause bones in X-rays to appear as if they had been broken – and a sure diagnosis of abuse to the inexperienced eye.
But vitamin D deficiency is only one possible explanation for a child who has multiple injuries. Others include:
- Injury at birth can later appear as swelling on the brain, or bleeding on the brain
- Vaccines have known injuries that are acknowledged by the vaccine makers, and they include encephalopathy (brain damage), thrombocytopenia (bruising and bleeding on the brain, and/or hemorrhaging), and hyptonic-hyporesponsive episodes (muscle limpness and unresponsiveness) – all symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome!
Probably the most poignant example of this is the introduction of legislation in Oregon that was proposed because of a baby who was harmed by the hepatitis B vaccine.
- Vitamin deficiencies such as metabolic disorder can cause lethal symptoms if left untreated. Also, numerous studies have also shown that deficiencies in vitamin C, D, and K can result in conditions that mimic SBS, including the appearance of broken bones in an X-ray!
- Genetic disorders such as Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as "Brittle Bone Disease" or "Lobstein Syndrome," can cause similar symptoms.
- Bleeding disorders such as coagulopathy can cause swelling and bleeding on the brain if left untreated.
- High bilirubin levels can also be suspected.
- Even heparin doses given when a baby's body is being held as an organ donor can cause internal swelling and bleeding.
- Non-abuse injuries, including falls from a very short distance, can cause bleeding on the brain.
Shaken Baby Syndrome has Become an Industry
It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about the topic of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and how it's become an industry of its own, with government funding that actually encourages CPS to label parents as abusers.
It is an industry that permeates the legal system, from judges to lawyers to the expert witnesses who testify on behalf – or against – an accused parent in a shaken baby case.
"It's an idea that has been added to and added to, but does not stand to science," said Dr. Edward Yazbak, a physician who has devoted the past 10 years to studying the issue and testifying as an expert witness on behalf of parents he believes are innocent of this crime.
"This shaken baby business has come out of nowhere and become an epidemic, and it's the other side that's making money – the child protective services, the funding, the grants that all these people get.
"It's obviously a very popular and passionate thing with them. But they're literally convicting people before they're even accused. It's the only crime in the world like this, and many of these parents are perfectly innocent."
You might think I'm overdoing it by repeating Dr. Yazbak's thoughts here, or you might even think that I'm going off on a tangent with too many shaken baby stories lately. But the truth is, there are too many parents who all of a sudden are being faced with these charges.
And the truth is that there are so many things that could mimic Shaken Baby Syndrome, that it's very possible that you or someone you know might be the next innocent person to be accused.
A Safe, Healthy Baby is Everyone's Goal
I can't think of anyone who doesn't want the best for their baby, and I don't want anyone to think that I'm negating the possibility that some parents would ever harm their children – because I know they do. What's important here is honesty. It's time that CPS and attorneys and prosecutors and judges – and juries – get honest with the way these cases are handled.
It's time to stop judging a person guilty from the ill-defined and unscientific definition that SBS has come to be.
My message to parents and caretakers is to read these articles and the links I've provided, and to be aware of all the symptoms that could mimic SBS, so that if something like this happens, you'll know how to protect yourself.
And my message to investigators is instead of assuming that a baby's been deliberately harmed, check for vitamin deficiencies. Check to see if a vaccine that has these types of symptoms as side effects might have been given to the child recently.
Check to see whether the child recently had a fall, even a small one.
And instead of automatically accusing a parent or caretaker of murder, make sure that the checklist is complete before the accusation is made.