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Statement Of The SIDS Alliance
Regarding Cases Of Child Abuse Fatalities
That Have Been Misdiagnosed As SIDS

The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Alliance 1314 Bedford Avenue
Suite 210
Baltimore, MD 21208
410-653-8226 voice
800-221-7437 voice
410-653-8709 fax
sidshq@charm.net

September 10,1997

Every baby deserves a future. Few people are as fervent about this sentiment as SIDS families, who have lost their babies to a mysterious medical disorder--their hopes and dreams shattered.

SIDS families, at the guidance of the SIDS Alliance, have been at the forefront of efforts urging the funding of research, adoption of mandatory autopsy legislation, and thorough, but compassionate death scene investigations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cases of child abuse fatalities which are misdiagnosed as SIDS are uncommon, the exception not the rule. In a 1994 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics, estimated that cases of sudden infant death thought to be SIDS were correct 95-98% of the time. The overwhelming number of SIDS cases are bon-a-fide medical disorders, and remain a medical mystery after all known and possible causes, including child abuse, have been ruled out. It is the hope of the SIDS community that, through the development and practice of proper protocols, the handful of cases masking child abuse each year will be uncovered.

It is very painful, for the thousands of legitimate SIDS parents across this country to be continuously subjected by the media to sensationalized reports of the isolated cases that have somehow fallen through the cracks in the medical examiner system. The Waneta Hoyt case, in particular, was splashed across the media when she was indicted twenty-five years after the fact, then again when she was convicted a year later, and is now being rehashed for public consumption a third time now that a pair of reporters have published a book from which they hope to gain fame from all this tragedy.

If as much media attention was given to promoting the Back To Sleep campaign--a highly successful nationwide infant health initiative aimed at reducing the risks for SIDS--as has been given to sensationalizing atypical, aberrant behavior, the journalistic community could instead become instrumental in further decreasing the rate of sudden, unexplained infant deaths beyond the 30% that has already been achieved (the equivalent of sparing the lives of 1,000 babies a year). Media coverage such as this disrupts the scientific momentum in a way that is far more damaging than scientific theories which may or may not fully pan out.

When it comes right down to it, "The Death of Innocents" is based on less than a handful of cases of infanticide mistaken for SIDS, and one of the major sources in support of its contentions against the apnea theory of SIDS--the unpublished Truman report--is based on the circumstantial speculation of a research fellow. The Truman report has not been released and, to our knowledge, has not been reviewed by scientific experts on the basis of scientific merit or methodology.

While the apnea theory of SIDS has fallen out of prominence over the past several years, it can still be credited with accomplishing two very important things: l.) It put forward the idea that SIDS babies were not healthy, as previously thought, and paved the way for recent clues surrounding defects in brainstem control of the breathing and nervous systems 2.) It inspired excitement energy and enthusiasm within the scientific community for a medical topic--SIDS--that had previously received little attention, attracting new scientists and opening up new avenues for scientific endeavors.

According to Judith Jacobson, Executive Vice President of the SIDS Alliance, "While the SIDS Alliance realizes that sensational stories are what sell papers or increase viewership, we contend that the kind of coverage that continuously downplays the thousands of legitimate SIDS cases and intentionally focuses on a minute percentage of misdiagnosed cases is as irresponsible and reprehensible as paparazzi photos, drawing public attention away from SIDS risk reduction programs like Back To Sleep which are saving thousands of infant lives."

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