Pediatric Neuropathologist on Failed Science Behind Shaken Baby Syndrome: Doctors Value Their Careers More than the Truth
by Terri LaPoint
Health Impact News
There are times throughout human history that a particular hypothesis or another is dogmatically accepted as truth.
In the past, those who challenged the group thinking could be hanged or burned at the stake as a heretic.
Even today, there can be a high price to pay for disagreeing with the status quo, even when there is strong evidence that shows that the group-think consensus is wrong.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is one such hypothesis.
Dr. Waney Squier is a world renowned pediatric neuropathologist whose intellectually honest quest for scientific truth has led her to change her belief about Shaken Baby Syndrome. She is joined by many other doctors and researchers who question the message that we have been taught to believe.
Her decision almost cost her career, and even now she is banned from testifying in court against Shaken Baby Syndrome.
See some of our coverage of her story:
She recently spoke out in a BBC interview about the science that led to her conclusion. Regarding the generally-accepted consensus of what happens in Shaken Baby Syndrome (sometimes called Abusive Head Trauma in the literature), Dr. Squier said:
This was just NOT making sense.
Despite the increasing scrutiny of the Shaken Baby Syndrome hypothesis, many doctors, social workers, and prosecutors have dug in their heels to defend the dogma of Shaken Baby Syndrome diagnosis.
Innocent parents continue to lose their children to Child Protective Services and even be imprisoned over allegations that they abused their children by shaking them.
Increasingly, criminal convictions are being overturned.
Last week the Innocence Project with West Virginia University College of Law helped to free Christopher Dodrill, a man who was in prison after being convicted of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
According to WVUToday:
Judge David W. Hummell, Jr., of the Tyler County Circuit Court found that Dodrill’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult with or hire a defense expert when his client was on trial and subsequently reversed the conviction.
“This is the second case in which a West Virginia Innocence Project client has been freed because defense attorneys did not investigate the controversial diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and experts have found and supported an alternative cause of injury,” said Valena Beety, professor of law and director of the West Virginia Innocence Project. “Chris should never have served time for a crime he did not commit, but at least his case shines a light on controversial and faulty Shaken Baby Syndrome prosecutions in our state.”
At the same time, the Texas Tribune reported a story of a man who is currently on death row, convicted of Shaken Baby Syndrome and imprisoned 15 years ago. Robert Roberson is literally fighting for his life as attorneys argue for a new trial based on a “junk-science law” that was passed by the Texas legislature in 2013.
The Texas Tribune reports:
Roberson’s attorneys argue in part that new scientific evidence has suggested it is impossible to shake a toddler to death without causing serious neck injuries, which Nikki did not have, and has linked the symptoms used to diagnose shaken baby syndrome to other conditions as well, including short-distance falls.
“There has been a tremendous amount of new scientific evidence,” said Gary Udashen, board president of the Innocence Project of Texas. “Biomechanical engineering studies have shown that you can generate enough force from a short-distance fall to cause serious head injuries.”
Dr. Squier Explains the Shaken Baby Syndrome Hypothesis
In the recent 13 minute BBC interview, Dominic Lawson asks Dr. Waney Squier what caused her to change her mind about the Shaken Baby Syndrome hypothesis.
Dr. Squier replied to Lawson:
I changed my mind when I had read some medical research which convinced me that shaking was not an appropriate explanation…
In about the 70s it was considered that a baby who presented with 3 findings, essentially:
- bleeding around the brain in a membrane called the dura,
- bleeding behind the eyes, and
- a swollen brain, or something called, clinically, “encephalopathy.” That’s just when the brain doesn’t function normally – maybe a baby who’s vomiting or irritable, or a baby who’s very severely ill with a swollen brain who may have seizures and die suddenly.
So these 3 findings were used to base a diagnosis that a baby had been shaken.
It’s something that I believed. I went along with this hypothesis because it is what everyone believed.
Beliefs Changed by Scientific Evidence
Dr. Squier continues:
But in about 2000 I read some research by a very highly regarded neuropathologist, a colleague called Jennian Geddes who looked at a large series of babies’ brains who she thought had the diagnosis of non-accidental injury or shaking, and she showed that these brains didn’t have any evidence of trauma or of mechanical tearing of the nerve fibers.
We used to put babies in forward-facing car seats, and if those babies were involved in road traffic accidents, they could suffer severe whiplash injuries to the neck.
Now, there are a number of these cases written up in the literature and those babies didn’t have the triad of symptoms of Shaken Baby Syndrome. They had fractures and dislocations of the neck.
So that suggests to me that if you shake a baby hard enough to get bleeding inside the head, you should surely damage the neck first.
Lawson summarizes her statement:
And your point therefore is that in fact they did NOT present with these neck injuries, and therefore it seemed most improbable that they had been shaken in the way that it was suggested.
Dr. Squier responds:
That’s right. And it was my life’s work. I spent 30 years looking at the brains of babies who’d died from natural causes.
And it’s clear that almost ALL newborn babies have some bleeding into the dura, the membrane that surrounds the brain, and quite a high proportion have bleeding under the brain [dura].
If you do brain scans on newborn babies, half of them have both the subdural bleeding and the retinal bleeding, which is characteristic of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“Fallout for Families” and Campaign to Discredit Her
The BBC interviewer and Dr. Squier discussed what they refer to as the “campaign” by the British police to discredit her and other “expert witnesses who challenge the [SBS] hypothesis, essentially to try and remove them from the courts.”
At about the 5:36 mark in the interview, Dr. Waney Squier describes the devastating consequences of that campaign for families:
But the fallout for families is just appalling. And people are going to prison, but even worse, babies are taken away from loving parents on a very regular basis in this country.
It happens in the United States as well. Following are just a few of the stories of Shaken Baby Syndrome accusations that Health Impact News has covered:
Doctor Destroys Ohio Family with Shaken Baby Syndrome Accusation – the Mount children are still in foster care.
Accusations of Shaken Baby Syndrome in Tennessee Destroys Family – Lands Parents in Jail – Joe Whitaker remains imprisoned, and their children are not with family.
5 Idaho Children Medically Kidnapped based on Doctor’s Opinion of Shaken Baby Syndrome – the Wolken children were eventually returned home.
Two Indiana Boys Medically Kidnapped Remain in CPS Custody Despite Testimony of Medical Experts – the Timmons children were eventually returned home.
After Trip to Emergency Room Illinois Couple has all 4 Children Medically Kidnapped – Mary Sweeney and Cedric Roberts, parents in our most recent Shaken Baby Syndrome allegation story, continue to fight to get their children home.
Oklahoma Takes 3 Children Away from Parents When One is Found with Possible Brittle Bone Disease – the Winery children were never returned home. They were adopted out to strangers.
Falsely Accused Washington Couple Loses Medically Kidnapped Baby for Two Years – it took 2 years for Allison and Jesus Valenzuela to get their son back. The ordeal cost Jesus his military career.
Tennessee Children with Brittle Bones Suffer in State Care as Mom Charged with SBS – the Turner children were eventually returned after a successful appeal of their case. Criminal charges were dropped.
“It Just Didn’t Make Sense”
BBC interviewer Dominick Lawson asks Dr. Squier at the 7:00 mark:
The balance of your thinking, when your mind was changing, how much was the thought of unjust conviction, that this was an enormous moral pressure on you – how much was simply you as a scientist, as an expert, trying to get it right?
I think it was probably about 99% about the science. This was just NOT making sense. In reading the papers that had been published in great detail, it just didn’t make sense.
It was scientific – that this was something that needed to be put right, and we needed more research to see how we could explain these babies’ symptoms.
Many Doctors Support Dr. Squier
Dr. Squier admitted to Lawson that she has been subjected to severe verbal abuse from some doctors, including what she calls “shocking language.”
On the other hand, many doctors have supported her.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a document with more than 300 world-wide doctors and attorneys who requested that Dr. Squier be reinstated after being struck off the medical register. (Source)
I’ve had letters from people I’ve never met supporting me, many, many letters from other doctors saying:
“We know you’re right, and we’re here behind you.”
Same Doctors Too Afraid for their Career to Speak up
Dr. Squier continues:
Those same doctors won’t stand up and put their head above the parapet, won’t give evidence in these cases, because they say it’s more than their career is worth.
Lawson slams the doctors and lawyers who refuse to stand up for right:
What does it say that practitioners know that people are going to prison, convicted of the most appalling crime against their own children which they did not commit, and yet, for reasons of professional advancement or security or a quiet life, won’t say this?
Dr. Squier attempts to explain what might be going on in their heads:
It’s very sad. It’s a shame, but one can understand why people want to protect their jobs, want to protect their income and their families.
Many, many experts simply won’t give evidence in these cases, and I’m aware that lawyers, solicitors, now trying to find experts to defend families find that experts just will not stand up and give evidence in the courts because it’s just too dangerous.
Dominick Lawson replies:
It’s a scandal, isn’t it?
Dr. Squier’s response cuts to the heart of the matter:
Doctors should be kept to their obligation to produce the evidence upon which their opinion is based. And this is a matter both for doctors – to not just say, “Well, it’s what we all think,” or “It’s what most people believe,” but to say, “These are the reasons why I’ve given these opinions,” [or] “These are the reasons why I think this is Shaken Baby Syndrome.”
And it’s also up to the judges to act to ensure that experts do act to their standard, so that there is science, not just, “Well, we’ve all agreed that is what happened.”
Health Impact News recently addressed this consensus thinking regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome in this article:
American Academy of Pediatrics’ Failing Shaken Baby Syndrome Diagnoses: Use Tyranny When Science Fails
Difficult for Doctors to Admit they Are Wrong, but Scientific Integrity Demands it
Near the end of the end of the interview, Dr. Waney Squier explains the mindset of medical professionals:
Doctors are perhaps used to being right, being listened to, being on a pedestal, don’t like to say they’re wrong.
To admit that they were wrong?
Dr. Squier continues:
Yes, they’ve learnt to be confident, to inspire confidence in their patients. It’s the way they seem to be trained to behave, and so it’s quite hard to come from that and say you’re wrong.
Intellectual Honesty Demands that the Evidence Change Belief
Dr. Squier wraps up her thoughts by saying:
This is how science progresses. We constantly have to change our minds. We constantly have to look at the evidence and go with what seems to have the best scientific backing for the time.
Lawson asks his final question of the interview:
Do you have any regrets?
Her response is one of intellectual integrity:
No. I didn’t really make the decision. It was made for me, because that’s what the science was saying. I was just being as honest as I possibly could.
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