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“Shaken baby syndrome” questioned by British court; conviction overturned

After 4-month-old Patrick Harris died in 1999, his grief-stricken mother was sentenced to prison for manslaughter. Expert medical witnesses testified that the existence of subdural hematomas, cerebral edema, and retinal hemorrhages proved that the infant had been shaken to death.

British Court of Appeal has not only overturned the conviction but, in a 61-page opinion, questioned the very existence of “shaken baby syndrome.”

The ruling could lead to the reopening of 88 similar cases in the U.K and up to 15,000 suspected child abuse cases in the U.S., stated Dr. John Plunkett of the Regina Medical Center in Hastings, Minnesota, an expert in child forensic pathology.

One study not considered by the court, a biomechanical study published last month by Dr. Faris Bandak of the University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, showed that a baby’s neck would fracture before shaking would produce brain swelling. “The signature of shaken baby syndrome is cervical spine injury,” he said.

In the U.K., this case adds to a crisis regarding the role of expert medical testimony in the courtroom (New Scientist 7/30/05).

Additional information:

Shaken Baby Syndrome on www.aapsonline.org/sbs.htm

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