The on-line journal Argument & Critique has published my review of the shaken baby syndrome literature, after an editorial exchange that has increased my appreciation for both the role of academia in the SBS/AHT debate and the value of The National Registry of Exonerations.
The journal’s managing editor, Dr. Lynne Wrennall at Liverpool John Moores University, approached me some months ago, after reviewing this web site and blog, to see if I wanted to submit a paper on shaken baby syndrome. After 17 years of tracking the evolving research, I was eager for the chance to pull the key papers and cases into the historical narrative. My own education came in the footnotes.
My citations to the medical literature were fine, but it turns out that the golden links for a blogger—the in-depth articles on individual cases from news outlets that post their archives on line—are forbidden to the academic researcher. I was allowed to cite the opinion of a New York Times reporter about British sentiment toward Louise Woodward but not, for example, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s treatment of the Baby Lucas case, in which doctors misdiagnosed a vitamin K deficiency as shaking injury. I thought my essay would be more potent if I could name some of the conditions that have been misdiagnosed as abuse, but my examples were all excised because the citations were deemed unreliable—which is a sound policy, when I think about how inaccurate the popular press can be.
Now I realize I could have saved us all a lot of trouble if I had just gone first to The National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the innocence projects at the Michigan and Northwestern University law schools, a reputable source that offers a sobering list of overturned shaking convictions, with case histories. The registry documents a number of conditions that have been misdiagnosed as abusive head trauma:
- Sickle cell disease, in the case of Melonie Ware (registry entry, radio treatment)
- Stroke, in the case of Julie Baumer (registry entry, press treatment)
- Seizure disorder, in the case of Drayton Witt (registry entry, press treatment)
- Sepsis infection, in the case of Adrian Thomas (registry entry, film about his first trial)
- Urinary tract infection and hypoxia, in the case of Brandy Briggs (registry entry)
- SIDS, in the cases of Teresa Engberg-Lehmer (registry entry) and Joel Lehmer (registry entry), whose case helped unravel years of misdiagnoses by Dr. Thomas Bennett in Iowa (Los Angeles Times treatment, by reporter Barry Siegel)
- Accidental injury, in the cases of
Some cases were overturned because they rested on timing:
- Audrey Edmunds (registry entry, press treatment, book about her ordeal)
- Mary Weaver (registry entry, press treatment, book about her ordeal)
- Abilgail Tiscareno (registry entry)
- Rashawn Greer (registry entry)
The registry now contains 1,388 exonerations, a number that’s likely to change soon, as the last entry seems to have been added yesterday, July 2, which I know because their case browser offers a handy sorting tool that also helped me find the cases above.
What this database doesn’t include are the dropped charges, as in the cases of Tammy Fourman and Kristian Aspelin; the not guilty verdicts, as in the cases of Richard Britts and Russell Van Vleck; or the many innocent people who either remain in prison or have served their terms. Still, it’s a valuable resource and a solid record of shaken baby syndrome in the courtroom, a record that’s respected in academia.
The journal that published my paper takes a libertarian perspective and “aims to stimulate debate and critical thinking around controversial topics.” I was encouraged to know that its editor, a U.K. social science professor, researcher, and government policy advisor, is not only aware of the SBS debate but eager to push it forward. I got a hint of why she is also a popular media figure when she offered this perspective on the criticism she hopes for in response to the shaken baby paper:
As you know the history of SBS, you know that it can get pretty stormy, but I make it a point of honour not to give in. I go by the edicts, ‘let the light in’, and make sure that you are never the only person to know something.
In that spirit, thank you for reading my blog. -Sue
copyright 2014, Sue Luttner
If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog site.