Shaken Baby Syndrome

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Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) was defined by Dr. John Caffey in 1972.[1]

It is used as a theory of prosecution promoted by government child protective services, which claims that thousands of infant deaths each year are caused by the shaking of babies by parents, daycare workers, babysitters and other caregivers. This theory has resulted in many convictions of caregivers of murder or manslaughter. Prosecutors rarely attempt to convict a mother of SBS, because juries are most skeptical about accusations that a mother killed her own infant. But if the caregiver was a father or anyone other than the mother and an infant unexpectedly dies, then prosecutors will often convict the caregiver of manslaughter or murder despite a lack of any outward sign of injury.[2]

Increasingly, independent medical experts have doubted or even completely rejected the theory when there is a lack of outward physical signs of abuse.[3] Yet thousands of defendants are in jail, some for life, for allegedly causing the death of an infant lacking any outward sign of injury. The CDC, for example, estimates that 1200 to 1600 children die annually from Shaken Baby Syndrome.[4]

Prominent forensic pathologists Vincent and Dominick DiMaio have such a dim view of the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome that they quoted Alice-in-Wonderland to describe it:[5]

"'If any one of them can explain it,' said Alice ... 'I'll give him sixpence. I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it."

The practicing neurosurgeon Ronald Uscinski, M.D., published his view in a peer reviewed journal:[6]

"[I]n 1987 and again in 2003, careful laboratory investigations based on the known biomechanics of head injuries showed that human beings cannot achieve the necessary accelerations for causing intracranial injury in infants by manual shaking alone, but that impact is required. Moreover, after more than 33 years, despite numerous reports of series of case studies, an actual witnessed incident in which an infant sustained an intracranial injury as a result of shaking alone has yet to be documented."

Details of the Theory

Though SBS has never been observed by a credible eyewitness, prosecutions will often rely on "confessions" by stunned caregivers about how they shook a baby in attempts to revive it from an unexpected aspiration or unexplained medical difficulty.

The theory of prosecutors in SBS cases is that brain injuries similar to whiplash can occur in a shaken infant. Because infants and toddlers possess proportionately larger heads than adults and weaker neck muscles, they are unable to restrain the movement of their heads when shaken. Under this theory, the brain is more mobile within the cranium in infants than in adults, and that shaking causes the brain to bounce within the skull. Shaken baby syndrome will be alleged whenever a subdural hemorrhages (bleeding in the brain), retinal hemorrhages (bleeding in the retina) and fractures of the ribs and bones occur, even though there are many innocent causes of such conditions. The claimed symptoms of shaken baby syndrome are vague and common, including extreme irritability, lethargy, poor feeding, breathing problems, convulsions, vomiting, and pale or bluish skin. Shaken baby injuries are typically claimed about children younger than 2 years old, but sometimes as old as 5 years.[7]

I just want to say thank you to Conservapedia for this, as there was a high-profile case here in Canada. The Bain family lost their 2 children for 2 years to the custody of Child Services in British Columbia over them alleging SBS. The Child Services here are so fascist the Bain family did not go to the media because they feared punishment if they did. Child Services would not even place the children with relatives of the Bain family. Finally, after testimony from a US expert, the family had there children returned.


  1. Caffey J: On the theory and practice of shaking infants. American Journal of Diseases in Children 124(2):161-169, August 1972, cited in Shaken Baby Syndrome Resources by Susan C. Anthony
  2. One of thousands of examples of such prosecutions is described here.