Last week’s decision by the General Medical Council (GMC) to remove pediatric neuropathologist Waney Squier from the medical register has triggered ongoing media coverage in the UK, including a number of voices speaking in her defense.
The GMC’s sanction followed a declaration earlier in the month by a tribunal that Dr. Squier was guilty of unprofessional conduct. Now she will no longer be allowed to practice or to testify as an expert witness.
Days after the tribunal announced its findings, human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith published an opinion piece in The Guardian that likened the move to the papal inquisition of Galileo in 1615, a thought echoed a week later in the same forum, in a letter to the editor signed by 25 medical and legal professionals in response to the GMC’s decision to strike her from the register.
Then The Guardian published a defense of the GMC process by Chief Executive Niall Dickson, who said critics had missed the point:
[T]he GMC is not and has no intention of being the arbiter of scientific opinion – the allegations we brought against Dr Squier did not rest on the validity of her scientific theory but upon her competence and conduct in presenting her evidence to the courts.
That same page contains more letters on both sides, including one by Susan Goldsmith, writer and co-producer of the film about shaking theory, The Syndrome. In another letter today, Clive Stafford Smith says that the charges were, in fact, about her opinion, not her behavior, and argues:
If we are right, then the people who mislead the court (albeit perhaps unintentionally) are those who purvey an unproven theory as fact.
Protecting Innocent Families (PIF), a non-profit that speaks on behalf of wrongfully accused families, submitted a letter to the GMC in support of Dr. Squier, including an angle that I had not taken the time to address in my post about the decision earlier in the month:
The declaration also scolds Dr. Squier unfairly for her citations of the medical research. In one example, she cited the early biomechanical research of Dr. Anne-Christine Duhaime and colleagues (“The shaken baby syndrome: A clinical, pathological, and biomechanical study,” Journal of Neurosurgery 1987 66:409–415) to support her observation that shaking without impact has not been shown to generate sufficient forces to cause brain injury. The panel wrote that Dr. Squier had “completely misinterpreted what Duhaime had actually said,” a conclusion that baffles us. The Duhaime paper was a landmark in the field, because it was the first attempt to test shaking theory scientifically, and the results surprised even the authors, who wrote:
“It was concluded that severe head injuries commonly diagnosed as shaking injuries require impact to occur and that shaking alone in an otherwise normal baby is unlikely to cause the shaken baby syndrome.”
PIF also released their letter to the press, which led to some confusion, as one resulting story opened with the miscue that the PIF petition is in support of Dr. Squier: “Campaign group defends ‘dishonest’ doctor struck off medical register for ‘shaken baby’ evidence.” Christina England at Health Impact News also quoted generously, and more accurately, from the PIF materials in her treatment, “Shaken baby syndrome expert and world renowned pathologist banned from practicing medicine.” PIF has published the full text of its letter on its web site.
Both the BBC treatment of the decision against Dr. Squier and the coverage in New Scientist presented both sides of the debate, although some articles reported the GMC’s position without mentioning her supporters.
March 29 update: Columnist James Le Fanu at The Telegraph has posted an insightful item criticizing the GMC.
If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this blog and web site.
copyright 2016 Sue Luttner