For years we have known that the diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is flawed. Yet too many innocent parents and caretakers remain wrongfully incarcerated and face wrongful convictions based on this false evidence.
In a statement released by the Innocence Network on April 30, the Network explains that although the SBS hypothesis was popularized in the early 2000s, it has never been scientifically validated.
As outlined in the statement, in 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect issued a “Technical Report” on SBS citing hypotheses from the 1970s that certain symptoms, including subdural hemorrhages and retinal hemorrhages, were indicative of violent shaking resulting in an infant’s death.
The medical community then quickly adopted the hypotheses from the AAP report as established fact, despite lack of scientific support.
In 2012, Dr. A. Norman Guthkelch, whose hypothesis was cited in the AAP paper, essentially argued against the positioning of the AAP paper as medical fact.
He clarified that,
“SBS and AHT are hypotheses that have been advanced to explain findings that are not yet fully understood. There is nothing wrong with advancing such hypotheses; this is how medicine and science progress. It is wrong, however, to fail to advise parents and courts when these are simply hypotheses, not proven medical or scientific facts.”
Despite Dr. Guthkelch’s clarification, accusations of SBS remained — and still remain — rampant.
In 2016, an independent group of experts appointed by The Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services, one of the oldest medical assessment organizations in the world, published findings that SBS evidence is “insufficient” and unreliable.
Still, medical experts continue to erroneously and carelessly assert the validity of SBS accusations in our courts.
A 2018 consensus statement from several medical professionals attempts to advise the courts that evidence of SBS is reliable, and that those who defend against SBS accusations are child-abuse deniers.
Further, the group has attempted to rebrand “Shaken Baby Syndrome” as “Abusive Head Trauma” (AHT).
But regardless of the name it’s given, the diagnosis is problematic in that it is not a truly medical one; rather, it imposes a legal implication by inherently presuming the deceased was abused.
With the distinction of “Abusive” Head Trauma, the proponents of SBS/AHT are dangerously trying to strengthen their medico-legal diagnosis at the risk of wrongfully convicting the innocent.
The Innocence Network’s April 30th statement points out:
“The AAP’s 2009 revision of its SBS/AHT position paper noted that, ‘[f]ew pediatric diagnoses engender as much debate as AHT. Controversy is fueled’ in part because ‘there is no single or simple test to determine the accuracy of the diagnosis and the legal consequences of the diagnosis can be so significant.’
“This controversy,” the Network continues in its statement, “[is on its] own sufficient for courts to exclude expert testimony and reverse convictions based on this unreliable diagnosis.”
The Network’s statement also offers recommendations for identifying, correcting, and preventing wrongful SBS/AHT convictions. Among the recommendations is what could be seen as a simple notion:
“Prosecutions should not be based on disputed medical evidence.”