Shaken-baby syndrome misused in the courtroom

A thousand thanks for publishing Lee Scheier’s bold but spot-on assessment of shaken-baby syndrome (“Martha Coakley, stop lauding bad science for self-promotion”, Oct. 19).

I have been following the medical debate around infant shaking since 1997, when the adult niece of a friend was convicted just before Louise Woodward’s case hit the headlines. Since then, I have tracked the footnotes through the medical literature, combed through trial transcripts, and interviewed dozens of families torn apart one way or another by a sincere but inaccurate diagnosis of shaken-baby syndrome.

The truth is almost unbelievable: While the brain bleeding and swelling commonly diagnosed as shaken-baby syndrome can be caused by infant battering, it can also reflect any of a long and growing list of legitimate medical conditions, including bleeding and metabolic disorders, certain kinds of infections, vitamin deficiency, and household falls.


Shaken-baby syndrome entered the courtroom before it was proven scientifically, and now 30 years of convictions have given its proponents the false impression that the theory is correct. I am thrilled that the press is now making room for this difficult but important story.

Sue Luttner

Palo Alto, Calif.