Saturday, 15 October 2016

The intersection between medicine and the law

"As social engineers go to work, more and more everyday problems are going to be medicalised and with disastrous results for those on the receiving end."

"‘I feel like a war reporter chronicling some huge battle,’ says Susan Goldsmith. A veteran investigative journalist based in Portland, US, Goldsmith has spent the last eight years looking into perhaps the most contentious intersection of medicine and law: shaken baby syndrome."

"Susan Goldsmith`s new film The Syndrome, directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith, claims to ‘expose the junk science behind an unprecedented criminal justice crisis’."

"It is reckoned that every year there are around 1,500 babies diagnosed in the US with a combination of the three symptoms (known as ‘the triad’) swelling of the brain, bleeding between the skull and brain, and bleeding in the retina and which was understood to be exclusively characteristic of shaken baby syndrome."

"‘There are people in prison whose convictions are based on science that has been disavowed,’ the US academic Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer tells Goldsmith in the film."

"In a 2009 paper for the Washington University Law Review, Prof Tuerkheimer said that the symptoms, in their ‘classic formulation’, were as close to ‘a medical diagnosis of murder’ as it was possible to imagine. ‘Prosecutors use it to prove the mechanism of death, the intent to harm and the identity of the killer,’ she wrote."

"But Tuerkheimer went on to argue that the science has since shifted and that the symptoms might well have natural causes. The US courts hadn’t caught up with the science though and, she reckoned, the result was ‘a criminal justice crisis’."

"‘Since I started working on this in 2008, it’s been really picking up steam,’ Goldsmith tells me. ‘There is an estimated 250 prosecutions every year.’ Tuerkheimer, formerly a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, reckons that there could be as many as 1,000 innocent people in US prisons now convicted on the basis..."

"Challenging the mainstream consensus on either side of the Atlantic in the courts is risky business. The Justice Gap recently reported on Dr Waney Squier, the world-renowned neuropathologist struck off by the disciplinary arm of the General Medical Council in March this year (here). Leading human rights lawyers including Michael Mansfield and Clive Stafford Smith accused the GMC’s disciplinary tribunal of conducting itself like a ‘21st-century inquisition’..."

"Susan Goldsmith has won numerous awards for her campaigning journalism. Her reporting at The Oregonian resulted in the state legislature passing laws to protect children in foster care. The new film is self-funded. ‘My newspaper would not let me do the story. They said it was too controversial,’ she says..."

"What does the journalist make of the GMC’s decision to strike off Squier who had appeared in courts on both sides the Atlantic? ‘It’s really scary. The strategy appears to be to take Waney out,’ she says..."

"Goldsmith notes that ‘shaken baby syndrome’ is a US export. The Syndrome includes footage of a US conference for international experts on shaken baby cases six years ago that also featured in a BBC Panorama special from March this year."

"That program shadowed Waney Squier in the months leading up to her being struck off. An American lawyer, Heather Kirkwood told Panorama that the doctor’s problems could be traced back to that conference. According to Kirkwood, ‘a co-ordinated plan’ was hatched to shut down critics of shaken baby syndrome in the courts in the UK. Panorama managed to obtain the conference notes of a detective inspector from the Metropolitan police under the freedom of information, in which he talked about it being ‘inconceivable’ that the defence will be able to deploy Squier and another expert in such cases..."

"According to Goldsmith, shaken baby syndrome had its ‘debut’ before a global press in the trial of Louise Woodward. In 1997, the British au pair was released by the trial judge despite her conviction for the involuntary manslaughter of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen in Massachusetts. She had been charged with murdering him. According to Goldsmith, the case put shaken baby syndrome ‘into the cultural conversation’."

"‘In shaken baby syndrome, they created a much more seemingly robust literature for propping up the syndrome,’ she says. ‘They created a fake science. The hysteria has convinced the courts and juries that it is a legitimate science.’"

"So what’s the motivation for the medical establishment buying into junk science? Follow the money, Goldsmith replies. Her film argues that an entire industry has been spawned around shaken baby syndrome."

"At one point the documentary, Patrick Barnes, chief of pediatric neuroradiology at the Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, tells Goldsmith: ‘We thought we were helping by uncovering these other medical conditions that can look like abuse, but are not. It actually threatens the entire shaken baby syndrome working group and industrial complex.’"

"In the US there is a positive legal duty on doctors to report symptoms to the authorities and that means, according to Goldsmith, a nightmarish experience for those parents who are innocently bringing in poorly kids to hospitals."

Shaken baby syndrome can also be used to cover up vaccine damage.

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