Shaken Baby Syndrome - Manmade Myth


Recent medical research has cast a shadow of doubt that is fast becoming a blanket of darkness over the question of whether Shaken Baby Syndrome is a reality or a dangerous synonym for “I don't know what killed your baby”. As technology continues to advance and the numbers of parents and caregivers claiming to be innocent of the accused crime climbs, questions are being asked about the legality of allowing old assumptions based on opinion to provide the guidelines in judging such cases.

In 1946, John Caffey was a pediatrics radiologist who reported four cases of children with broken bones and subdural hematomas ( blood trapped under the outermost brain membrane). Believing there might be a connection, he was later to suggest both had occurred as a result of being shaken. No autopsies were performed and there was no information indicating whether any had received a blunt trauma to the head, accidentally or otherwise.

Because Caffey was looking to validate the respectability of his field, he was very excited about the 1956 case of Virginia Jaspers, a pediatric nurse working in the private homes of families with newborns. In 1948, eleven week old Cynthia Hubbard died of what was thought to have been a congenital brain condition, though some of her doctors thought there was more to her death.

Two years later, three month old Jennifer Malkan's death was attributed to choking on formula with cereal added. Jaspers vehemently denied doing anything harmful and had, in fact, attempted to save her by shaking her to get a “bubble” up.

The following year, two month old Bruce Schaefer's leg was broken. Though the case was investigated, it went nowhere. Yet another year later, another child under Jasper's care was brought into the hospital. Twelve day old Abbe Kapsinow was in a coma and died several days later. Jaspers admitted to shaking Abbe because she was refusing to take her formula. Abbe was the daughter of an ex-Connecticut State senator who maintained many political ties. This time, an extensive investigation was initiated and Virginia's background examined. Within four days of intensive questioning, Jaspers broke down and confessed to her crimes.

So began the diagnosis called Shaken Baby Syndrome, though whether it was possible to harm the babies by shaking alone, was never questioned. By 1962, Jaspers's confession led another physician to announce that any baby presenting with subdural hematomas and retinal hemorrhages had been abused by shaking. C. Henry Kempe wrote an article for the Journal of American Medicine Association in which he urged all doctors to promote the diagnosis of a shaken baby if subdural hematomas, retinal hemorrhages, and broken bones were to be found on an injured infant. Caffey originally named the syndrome as Parent-Infant Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PITS), but Kempe called it “The Battered Child Syndrome.” There was never any question that parents and caregivers were inflicting the injuries. No thought was put on whether the injuries may have been caused by short falls, accidents, or birth injuries. Once the group of injuries were discovered in a child brought in for medical treatment, no further examination was done.

For more than a hundred years, reports had been made regarding childhood injuries sustained from short falls. Neurosurgical literature recorded cases where subdural hematomas, retinal hemorrhages, and skull fractures had resulted from short falls. Despite this evidence to the contrary, Kempe maintained that if medical findings were in conflict of historical data presented by the parents, then the parents were lying. He maintained that this type of conflict was a major feature in the battered child syndrome, though his claims were false, given that he had done no research concerning the amount of impact which would be necessary to cause the injuries presented.

The problem with the theory that a baby's brain can suffer severe damage as the result of shaking is that it was arrived at by making a judgment based solely on circumstantial evidence rather than testing. Other opinions have provided confirmation of the theory by more of the same type of reasoning, yet nowhere in the early written annals of the hypothesis can conclusions be found as a result of reliable and accurate testing. Simply put, physicians are referring to the symptoms in order to determine the cause.

With Shaken Baby Syndrome, it is supposed that the rapid forward and backward snapping of an infant's head during a violent shaking episode is what causes injury to the brain and retinal hemorrhaging. However, in 1982, Lawrence Thibault (a biomechanician) and Tom Gennarelli (neurosurgeon) showed that brain injury is more easily caused by a side-to-side motion like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. In addition, they also conducted studies which gave proof that shaking alone without impact can not cause brain injuries in normal infants. Using Penn State football players, they had them shake a baby model as hard and fast as they were capable, only to discover that none of them could generate more than 18% of the force necessary to cause injury. These same athletes were asked to slam the model down on three different surfaces and found that only by slamming it on a hard metal surface was enough force generated.

In 1987, Ann-Christine Duhaime conducted tests which proved that shaking by itself can not cause fatal brain injury. Two British neuropathologists conducted a study in 2001, of children who had actually been shaken. Their study gave evidence that when shaken, there was a high association with brain stem injury and/or upper cervical spine injury. In other words, should a baby be violently shaken, one should expect to also find brain stem or upper cervical spine injury. The final analysis is simply that if an injured baby presents with intracranial and/or intercerebral injury and retinal hemorrhages, then stem and cervical spine injuries should also be found if, indeed, the baby has been shaken. Otherwise, one must assume another cause is at fault for the injuries. A study completed in 2003 by C. Z. Cory and M. D. Jones confirmed the findings of Duhaime, but concluded that impacting a hard surface was likely to cause an injury.

The evidence of these studies shows that shaking alone can not cause injury to a baby's head. It shows that short falls can and sometimes do cause fatality. It shows that there are many, many other causes for the symptoms currently associated with SBS, but they are being ignored, while other, potentially injurious causes are not being researched.

So why with all this new information are parents and caregivers still being charged and convicted based on old and unreliable information? Why would both the justice system and medical profession not act quickly to put an end to taking the risk of incarcerating innocent people for crimes they didn't commit?

Money plays a large role in the why's and wherefore's. As sinister as it may sound, money is probably the major factor of why the term Shaken Baby Syndrome and all that it implies isn't removed from the arena of admissible evidence when determining whether a crime has been committed. Federal and state governments, as well as private foundations, pump billions of dollars into programs designed for the recognition and prevention of Shaken Baby Syndrome. A multitude of physicians, pathologists, and neurologists have turned their “knowledge” into very lucrative side careers giving testimony as expert witnesses, in addition to publishing their theories, being engaged as speakers at public events, and receiving grants to further the effort of prevention.

Unless one works in the legal system, most people aren't aware of the vast sums an expert witness can charge for his/her services. While the average witness giving testimony may not charge for the testimony given, they may be able to be reimbursed for expenses such as parking, travel, and in some states an amount is allotted for missed work. However, as an expert witness, thousands of dollars per hour can be earned. The idea is that there is much time, beyond the actual time to give testimony, that is required for preparation such as research and possibly conducting tests or experiments. Concerns with these kinds of paid witnesses are quite simply that the witness may slant his testimony in favor of the party paying his bill. When an average citizen with an average income is faced with the odds of having to defend himself against the power and purse of the system, it becomes almost impossible to prove innocence. After all, the diagnosis itself has already condemned the accused

Besides the vast amount of money at stake for “experts” and programs receiving funding, there would be what some might consider a loss of face. Consider the “expert” who is highly regarded and respected for his immense “knowledge” and “expertise” on the subject of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Should the newly discovered findings and research be upheld as true and accurate, the current beliefs and understandings of the syndrome would become worthless and unacceptable, rendering the “experts” to be not so expert at all, and lessening their standings in the medical ranks.

Though they have been a long time in coming, changes in the accepted beliefs regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome are taking place. Audrey Edmunds was convicted in 1997 of a crime she has maintained she never committed. When one of the leading expert witnesses came across new evidence which suggested he may have been wrong about Audrey's case, an appeal was made for a new trial. Initially the judge denied the request, and another appeal was made. In 2008, the Court of Appeals granted the request and set Audrey free until the date was set, but the state eventually declined to retry her.

A New York Times magazine article published February 6, 2011 outlined the many concerns raised by the controversy over what's known as Shaken Baby Syndrome. Aside from the fact that many parents and other caregivers may already be imprisoned because of faulty pseudoscience, continuation of disregard for the possibility of other causes only serves to put children at risk. By not researching other possible causes of the symptoms, now thought to be wrong, we are risking the possible prevention of many children's deaths.

Any unexpected and unexplained death of a child will bring up emotions of anger, guilt, and the need to blame. However, if we continue to prosecute individuals with “evidence” based on junk science, we are even more guilty of crimes against children, in that we are failing to find the real culprits, which would inevitably save at least a few of them through preventative measures for medically based conditions.

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Comments 16 comments

JillKostow profile image

JillKostow 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

This article hit very close to home for me being we were faced with Shaken Baby Syndrome charges in 2008. My son had fallen and suffered a subdural hematoma and a slight retinal bleed. After months of worrying about our son's health (because we knew he was not shaken) accompanied by the stress of jail time we were told the doctor had made a mistake. My son has Benign Enlargement of the Subarchranoind Space in his head which causes infants and young toddlers to have subdural hematomas and possible retinal bleeding. In my eyes SBS is a myth, and many innocent parents are behind bars!! I wrote about my families journey and I am sure it is familiar to countless others. Thank you for posting this well written article!!!

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

You are quite welcome. Many years ago, my family suffered a terrible crisis regarding something that had happened to my then 6 year old daughter. It hadn't happened at home, but because of my suspicions, I went looking for answers, even took her to the hospital, trying to find out what had happened and what to do. The upshot was that Children's Services came into our home and did everything in their power to create a situation which had not occurred by exaggerating what really had happened. They did their best to divide my husband and me, and insisted that someone inside the house had done unspeakable things, when that wasn't even remotely what had happened. It wasn't until my daughter spoke with them that they finally got the picture. It was a hell from which there is no way out unless they decide they have something big enough to sink their teeth into elsewhere. In the apologies for the mess they created in our lives.

cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 5 years ago from northeastern US

eye-opening. thanks.

wheelinallover profile image

wheelinallover 5 years ago from Central United States

I think people who shake babies should pay a price for it. It's not right no matter what....When they shake them then throw them against the wall that is totally unforgivable.

There was a man who claimed to be a friend of mine who did that to his own child. He is free now but the child will never be normal because of what he did...the only way he will ever have to "suffer" is he will never see the child he did this to again.

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

The purpose of the article is NOT to allow the guilty to go free, or to imply that shaking a child is an acceptable behavior. The point is that many parents and caregivers have been convicted of shaking alone (no other action such as impacting the head or throwing them) while there is no proof of any shaking being done, in addition to proof that shaking is not what is bringing harm to babies. Infants who present with the symptoms of subdural hematomas and/or retinal hemorrhages need to have more medical testing done to determine the cause of the symptoms. There are many MEDICAL reasons for these symptoms. Instead, too many physicians are failing to look any further, being satisfied to simply assume a parent is guilty without ruling out the medical possibilities.

As for your friend---did he admit to doing this? I find it hard to believe he admitted to taking actions which brought this kind of injury to his child and he hasn't been charged. If he has maintained his innocence and he hasn't been charged, I'm betting it's because more and more courts are beginning to question the junk science SBS has been founded upon.

As for never seeing his child again, while I'm not accusing the Childrens' Services of any wrong doing, they are the next hurdle in the battle against righting this terrible wrong done to those who are innocent. I don't know the circumstances of your friend, so I can't make any judgements one way or another, but perhaps, you may want to take a look at ALL the circumstances surrounding this particular case before you assume he is guilty. This sort of judgment has been putting thousands of innocent people in jail for 30 years now.

JillKostow profile image

JillKostow 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

I would like to add on your thought about the Children's my family's case they were called by the accussing doctor. When they met with us we were informed they had to investigate our home for signs of child abuse which included questioning my older children. No abuse was found because my children have never been abused!! Even though they detemined there was no abuse they still pushed forward with the case, because they said they had to go by what the doctor was saying. So therefore, by a doctor stating abuse it means that the Child Services must then say and move forward on abuse charges. That's like me saying you have $5 million dollars in your pocket because I am a money expert, you don't have $5 million dollars in your pocket but because my expert opinion says you do, well then you do!!!

I have many sleepness nights just thinking about what could have happened to my family, and I know there are many families who were torn apart by false and underexamined SBS accussations and charges!!

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kafheytav 5 years ago

Very good research and writing. I was not aware of the history of this "syndrome" even though it's mentioned so often. How awful to think people have been jailed for something based on flawed information, ie. that babies are killed as a result of being shaken.

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Jill - Child Service organizations have become another group we need to be scrutinizing. The fact that they can and DO continue to monitor and penalize parents simply because they were questioned about circumstantial evidence is an outrage and goes completely against all that is lawful. They have taken their right to protect abused children as a right to persecute innocent parents simply to cultivate job security. The more cases to be monitored, the more need for funding and maintaining the employee roster.

Kafheytav - thanks for your compliments. I don't know of anyone who hasn't heard the term Shaken Baby Syndrome, but most people I've talked to have no idea that the term has no scientific or medically tested foundation. It's amazing how much is slipped past the unsuspecting public by the "experts" we count on to serve us.

wheelinallover profile image

wheelinallover 5 years ago from Central United States

He admitted guilt, in reality he had no choice, he was alone with the child and responsible for her care at the time. He even admitted to throwing her against the wall, this to a baby under a year old. When her mother took the child to the emergency room (he didn't even do that) they found the brain stem injury. In this case the state was right to step in and end his parental rights. He did spend two years in prison, but his child will spend a lifetime not able to walk or function normally mentally because of what he did. The worst part in my eyes and why that friendship ended is that he felt no remorse.

Upon doing more research I did find that doctors started using shaken baby syndrome more, really not caring if there was another cause, and for the most part not looking. This is America so it should be innocent until proven guilty, and this has been abused by doctors not doing their job and the state stepping in. In the past year I have seen the state step in twice for other charges of abuse and neglect where it was not necessary. They literally tore two families apart based on lies told to the police by a third party who had no inside knowledge of either family. In one case the woman was trying to get custody of two developmentally disabled children who do not receive (SSI) because she believed these children couldn't be raised without it. The other case involved an eight year old who "stole" so supposedly wasn't being taught properly. I was inside on this case and know the child was talked to by several people and told that stealing was not accepted by society and she was otherwise disciplined but not spanked. Neither mother currently has their children but both are hoping to get them back soon.

crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

informative because it never occurred to me that shaking babies can cause a particular syndrome which is disastrous to their health.thanks for this info,at least i have learn t a lot.

Savant 5 years ago

I think some very important facts about the Virginia Jaspers case are being ignored in this article. Virginia Jaspers did indeed shake babies, three of which died. Others were left severely mentally retarded, and what almost no one knows, is one infant that shaken is now a savant, with an extreme high IQ of over 250 and may be even over 300.

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 5 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

The article mentions Jaspers and some of the incidents involved with her case simply because Caffey used the case as a springboard for validation of his OPINION. There were never any autopsies performed to determine exactly what kind of maltreatment had been perpetrated on those children. There was never any determination of whether a blunt force trauma to the head had occurred, or whether the babies had been thrown down or slammed. So, claiming they died by shaking, alone, is erroneous and absolutely criminal. Creating a whole media campaign to present an unproved theory is irresponsible. After more than 50 years of garbage, non-scientific opinion, we are still embracing the idea of locking up the last person to have cared for an afflicted child.

While any kind of violent behavior toward a child or infant is unacceptable and potentially dangerous, the evidence has shown beyond doubt, that shaking a child alone can not and will not cause the triad of injuries currently still being used as a determination of child abuse in such cases. In addition, there are many other factors which will cause them, but they are ignored because it's much more profitable and sensational to be involved in a "shaken baby" case. One of the major causes of the triad is actually the vaccines we willingly give our children under the advisement of medical professionals who insist that the benefits are greater than the risks. Really? Risking brain damage or death to an infant is acceptable because the documented cases are minimal? Ask the mother of one of those documented cases if she feels the damage is minimal. Let's ask her if she feels that ignoring the evidence of vaccine induced injuries is beneficial to her child.

As for the limited documented cases of vaccine induced injuries, this is simply because so-called professionals don't bother to look beyond their blind acceptance of the Shaken Baby myth as fact rather than the fiction it is. It certainly isn't helping us to protect our children, which really should be the mission we hope to achieve.

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Samantha Gilley 4 years ago

I was accused of SBS 1 week after my daughter had her vaccination shots. She died at 2 months old. My daughter did not have any bruises, broken bones or anything. The only thing she had was brain damage. The detectives on the case would not look into the vaccinations or anything they just accused me without doing any investigation really. I did not hurt my child. We took her to the hospital 3 times in the week she got her shots and started acting different they told me she was fine. I do not understand how SBS can be used when there is no physical damage to any other part but the brain, we found her not breathing and lack of oxygen can cause brain damage. sorry for kind of venting on here. I just wanted to share that I have been through this.

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 4 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Samantha, I so sorry for this response to have taken so long. I know I posted about a day after you did, but if I remember correctly, I was having trouble with my internet going in and out...perhaps the response got lost in cyberspace?

I'm truly sorry for your ordeal. It might be a good idea for you to write your own story about your experience. You could help so many people, and the more incidences that are documented, the more evidence the innocents, such as yourself, have to draw from when mounting a defense against unjust accusers. Take care and thank you for "venting".

Kathleen 4 years ago

Excellent article.....and I have read 1000's since my son was falsely accused :( I feel the truth will be out to all someday and this horrid quick mindset of false accusation will STOP, let us all look harder for the truth as to what is killing these babies. I to do not want those quilty to walk free but equally the innocent shouldn't lose their lives along with the baby

Terri Meredith profile image

Terri Meredith 4 years ago from Pennsylvania Author

Thank you Kathleen. I'm sorry for your son's troubles. The only way this craziness will stop is when enough of us start screaming the truth at the top of our lungs and refuse to stop until appropriate changes are made. I'm sooooo very tired of living in a society that worships the green god (money) at the expense of people.

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