Challenges to shaken-baby syndrome met with disdain, disregard

As reflected in the recent Supreme Judicial Court decision regarding the case of Oswelt Millien, legal and medical professionals are beginning to migrate away from endorsing shaken-baby syndrome. Old and recent analysis reveals that scientific evidence to support shaken-baby syndrome is lacking.

As this truth has emerged in scientific literature and legal opinions, the response from child abuse authorities has been to morph shaken-baby syndrome into new, flawed appellations, such as “abusive head trauma” and “nonaccidental trauma,” which purposefully imply intentional abuse. Nonspecific findings, now recognized as not diagnostic of abuse, are more likely indicators of household accidents or common medical problems. Yet using flawed logic, adherents of shaken-baby syndrome misuse the same findings believed to diagnose abuse as proof of abuse.


Confronted with challenges to their decades-old credo, leaders in the local and national child abuse communities employ personal attacks, and now political bullying. Such efforts now focus on Dr. Peter Cummings and government officials (“Medical examiners here can be a jury of one,” Page A1, Aug. 21), in an effort to maintain the status quo. Child abuse leaders, touting widespread acceptance of their beliefs in a recent letter to Governor Baker, provide no scientific proof.

While all responsible parties hope that recognition and acceptance of evidence-based science will provide an incontrovertible path to accurate diagnosis, disregard and disdain for new, qualifying science continues to dominate the issue. By denying legitimacy to alternative thinking, the shaken-baby syndrome establishment maintains a power to accuse innocent nonabusive families. Each family falsely accused under this pseudoscience is a tragedy.

Dr. Steven C. Gabaeff, Sacramento, Calif.

The writer is a diplomate emeritus of the American Board of Emergency Medicine.

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