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News of the Day ... In Perspective

8/31/2005

British expert witness delicensed

Pediatrician Roy Meadow, knighted for services to child health, has been struck from the medical register by the General Medical Council (GMC) for giving “erroneous” and “misleading” testimony that resulted in the imprisonment of an innocent mother.

In 1998, Professor Meadow testified that the chance of two cases of “cot death” (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS) in a case like that of Donna Anthony was one in a million, and she was wrongly sentenced to life in prison.

In 1999, Professor Meadow told a jury that the odds of two cot deaths were one in 73 million, and Solicitor Sally Clark was wrongly sentenced to life.

The actual probability in Mrs. Clark’s case of losing two babies to SIDS was later found, in 2000, to be one in 77. Her conviction was overturned only in 2003 when it was found that a Home Office pathologist had failed to disclose microbiologic tests pointing to a natural cause of death.

In defending himself against charges of serious professional misconduct before the GMC, Meadow claimed that he could not be considered an expert on child abuse, despite having edited a book entitled The ABC of Child Abuse.

Meadow became renowned for describing (or imaging or inventing?) the syndrome of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP) in an article published in The Lancet in 1977. According to the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center of Holland, Ohio, which advocates for accused mothers, MSP means “never having to say you’re sorry if you are an accusing doctor (hospital, health insurer, Medicaid cost accountant) and did something wrong.” The original research on MSP has not been replicated, and Professor Meadow says the original notes were shredded, states an article by NCADRC.

The Lancet has come to Professor Meadow’s defense, maintaining that his “capitulation to lawyerly pressure and his use of imaginative language were made in good faith.” He should not be made a “scapegoat.”

According to the UK Timesonline, expert medical witnesses have become “opinions for hire.” The Clark case is “only one of many in which there was so much uncertainty that there must always have been a reasonable doubt. It is hard to escape the impression that in some child abuse cases, the British tradition of innocent until proven guilty has been reversed.”

Additional information:

Coalition and Center for Expert Medical Testimony has links to all the material cited above: www.ccemt.org, “Breaking News,” search on “Meadow.”

Shaken Baby Syndrome questioned by British court, News of the Day, Aug 2, 2005.

“Post-Mortem on a Shaken Baby Syndrome Autopsy,” by F. Edward Yazbak, M.D., J Am Phys Surg, summer 2005.

“Reflections on Shaken Baby Syndrome: a Case Report,” by Jane M. Orient, M.D., J Am Phys Surg, summer 2005.

In press: AZ Medicine, July/August 2005, special issue on expert medical testimony, with articles by Louise Andrew, M.D., J.D.; A. Bernard Ackerman, M.D.; Constance Uribe, M.D.; Anthony Yeung, M..D.; Patrick O’Connell, M.D.; and Andrew Schlafly, Esq.; and Jane M. Orient, M.D. Contact [email protected] for reprints.

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