PEORIA, IL -- Shaken baby syndrome, a diagnosis used to convict and imprison parents and caretakers for child abuse, has no scientific basis showing it actually occurs. That was the conclusion of a panel at a Peoria meeting on April 25.
The concept is so questionable that a new name for it has been found, "abusive head trauma." But the syndrome is "mythology."
A Wheaton attorney, Zachary Bravos, said the "classic shaken baby case with no external signs of injury does not exist." Bleeding on the brain, used to diagnose the syndrome, is caused by "disease conditions."
Dozens of bio-mechanical tests, some on animals, have proved that shaking cannot cause bleeding in the brain, he said.
The audience viewed a film about wrongful convictions and prosecutions of abuse, based on shaken baby syndrome. It revealed that the physicians who have pushed this wrong diagnosis have profited from it, by setting up a center and conferences and obtaining millions in grants to fund their activities.
"You can't cause brain damage without causing neck damage," an expert in the film stated. Then the panel talked and answered questions from the audience.
Panelist Michelle Weidner was wrongly accused of 'abusive head trauma' in 2010. Her six week old infant was wrongly diagnosed at OSF St. Francis Medical Center, she said, and child welfare officials were notified of potential abuse. The baby was ultimately taken out of state to another hospital where accurate scans took place.
He was finally diagnosed with a rare disorder, but the family was under supervision for three months by child welfare officials during an investigation, and could not be alone with their children.
Weidner has become an activist for medical accuracy in child abuse investigations. She said she has been threatened. "I have been warned to stop telling my story," she said.
A nurse who tried to help her almost lost her job, she said. A doctor kept silent. "There is no safety for dissent. People stay quiet," she said."There needs to be less fear. What does this say about child welfare in this community?" she asked.
A Springfield radiologist on the panel, Dr. David Ayoub, said the lack of scientific evidence for shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma is appalling. But the medical establishment has fallen for the ideology, and is pushing back against those who question it. "Things are worse now than before. I fear people like us are going away," he said.
Bravos said the syndrome is "entrenched in the legal system," but some judges who understand science are becoming enlightened. "The courts have been recognizing the evolution in science."
He added, "the attempt to silence dissent is usually the last gasp of a dying idea."
Louis Milot, the team leader for assistant public defenders in the juvenile division of the Peoria county court, said parents accused of this type of abuse are not like typical criminals. "These parents want to know what happened. They want to help," he said.
"I have issues with clinical-based opinions rather than science," Milot said.
A group, Pediatric Accountability in Central Illinois, seeks to help parents wrongfully accused, and "educate members of the medical, legal and law enforcement communities about medical conditions and accidental injury findings that minic abuse and neglect findings."
-- Elaine Hopkins