Shaken Baby Syndrome, A Scientifically Flawed Theory

A Joint Statement on Shaken Baby Syndrome was released in 2001. (1) Endorsed by a number of Canadian organizations and described by them as “a form of child abuse”, it forwards certain scientifically unproven theories which have become entrenched in the medical and legal arena, and are being used to justify the persecution and false accusation of innocent parents and caregivers whose babies are struck with certain types of brain injuries.

Parents and care givers are being accused and often sent to jail on grounds that they have deliberately and violently shaken a baby causing brain injury or death. Undoubtedly in some cases, this may be true. However, in the last few years, there has emerged new scientific evidence which refutes the idea that deliberate violent shaking is the only possible cause for the symptoms arising from same, and that in fact, there exists the possibility of other factors that can cause these types of brain injuries.

Research by medical experts is revealing an emerging pattern of increasingly frequent vaccine reactions which, are being overlooked or misdiagnosed by the present health care system. Numerous researchers and the American Medical Association’s official encyclopedia of medicine have concluded that, endotoxins (poisons produced by certain bacteria) sometimes make the walls of blood capillaries more permeable. “Some of the symptoms being quoted as shaken baby syndrome could be attributed to the DTP vaccine, particularly the whole-cell pertussis component,” said Dr. Mark Geier, a Maryland physician and geneticist who has testified in numerous vaccine damage cases. He noted that one of the symptoms of shaken baby syndrome that prosecutors frequently stress is “bleeding on both sides of the brain because of being shaken back and forth.” But, explained Geier: A baby that has a DTP shot potentially has interference with blood clotting, and you might end up with bleeding on both sides of the brain. It looks like it could have been shaken baby.

The most pressing and disturbing question that arises in response to the Canadian Joint Statement on SBS is why it has chosen to ignore scientific evidence that points to reasons other than violent shaking that can trigger these injuries, and excludes the findings of the largest and most comprehensive scientific study ever done on the types of brain injuries commonly labeled as SBS cases? The study led by neuropathologist Jennian Geddes, at the Royal London Hospital and reported in the New Scientist (June, 2001) and later published in the journal Brain, challenges the widely held view that only extreme violence causes the kinds of brain injuries in so called Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“We found an as yet unseen pathology focused on the craniocervical junction, the point where the brain meets the spinal cord,” Geddes says. A rocking motion at this point can damage the vital part of the spinal cord that controls breathing. The subsequent lack of oxygen, makes the brain swell dramatically. This causes brain damage of the kind previously blamed on direct trauma to the brain caused by violent shaking.

The research calls into question the scientific evidence behind many convictions for killing infants and could open the way for a wave of appeals. “Unless it is certain that injuries were caused by gross negligence or worse, the judge will direct the jury to acquit,” says John Binns, a criminal defense solicitor with Victor Lissack & Roscoe of London.” On the basis of these findings, it is impossible to imagine a prosecution succeeding in anything but the clearest cases.”

Pediatric neuroradiologist, Dr. Patrick Barnes, M.D. raises concerns about the lack of consistent and reliable criteria for the diagnosis of NAI (non-accidental injury) & SBS. “The vast body of literature on child abuse is composed of anecdotal case series, case report, reviews, opinions and position papers. Furthermore, many reports include cases having impact injury that not only raises doubt regarding the “shaking only” mechanism but also questions that this injury is always “non-accidental”. From an evidence-based medicine perspective, quality of evidence ratings for diagnostic criteria regarding the literature on SBS reveal that few published reports merit a rating above class 1V (any design where the test is not applied in blinded evaluation, where evidence is provided by expert opinion alone, or in descriptive case series without controls). Such qualities of evidence ratings hardly earn a diagnostic criteria recommendation level of “optional”, much less as a “guideline” or “standard”. (emphasis ours) This is particularly true of the neuro-imaging literature on SBS/NAI, the clinical SBS/NAI literature that uses neuro-imaging, and the forensic pathology literature.”

To date, there is no scientific basis that indicates how much, or how little force is necessary to produce traumatic injury to the developing CNS [central nervous system]” says Dr. Barnes. He further questions the specificity of retinal hemorrhages as an indication of child abuse, and indicates that such hemorrhages “may be seen with a variety of conditions, including accidental trauma, resuscitation, increased intracranial pressure, increased venous pressure, certain metabolic disorders and other conditions.”

Dr. Barnes reiterates that from the perspective of medical imaging data available, “it is clear that we do not have an established scientific platform from which to distinguish non- accidental from accidental CNS injury, and in some cases, traumatic from non-traumatic CNS injury … and that the immaturity of the young infant brain (e.g. under-myelinated, larger extra cerebral spaces) makes it more vulnerable to traumatic CNS injury whether accidental or non-accidental.”

“The medical and imaging evidence, particularly where there is only CNS injury, cannot accurately diagnose presumed intentional injury. Only the social investigation may provide the basis for inflicted injury in the context of supportive medical, imaging or pathologic findings.” Says Dr. Barnes, “The radiologist must be aware of certain conditions that are known to have clinical and imaging features that may mimic abuse. These include accidental injury, certain coagulopathies, vascular diseases, infectious or post-infectious conditions (e.g. post vaccinal), metabolic disorders, neoplastic diseases, certain therapies, and some congenital and dysplastic disorders. The physician should not only rule them out, but also must consider the possibility of combined, or multifactorial mechanisms with synergistic effects ( i.e., an underlying conditions with superimposed non-accidental, or accidental, trauma).”

Dr. Barnes offers a case in point of “a young infant who became progressively ill following a diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) vaccination and subsequently became apneic. The father attempted to revive the child by “shaking” and then attempted CPR. The infant also received CPR by the rescue team at the home and again at the hospital. Retinal hemorrhages were present on ophthalmologic examination. The father was charged with abuse. Subsequent CT imaging with CT venography showed a combination of enhancing cerebral infarctions, venous thromboses and subdural hemorrhages… The evidence was consistent with a hemorrhagic meningoencephalitis, likely postvaccinial, although additional trauma, either accidental (e.g. CPR) or nonaccidental (e.g. shaking) could not be ruled out. The father was convicted on the basis that the State’s experts testified that the injuries could only be caused by SBS (96). The conviction is under appeal.”

Concludes Dr. Barnes – “Timely and thorough evaluation of alleged NAI/SBS cases clinically and radiologically, in addition to the social assessment, can make the difference between appropriate child protection and an improper breakup of the family or a wrongful indictment and conviction. Pediatric neuroradiology often plays a major role in this assessment.” (2)

There is tendency in some medical arenas to discount completely the history provided by the family if you find evidence of subdural hematoma [a pooling of blood under the outer membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord] – no matter what history is provided. Even a three-foot fall can cause fractures. It doesn’t need to come from some shaking event. I’m always leery in medicine of saying something is always due to some factor, or that something is 100 percent. – Dr. Thomas Schweller, paediatric neurologist, testifying in court – Gannett News Service Report:

….the train of events in the present case, culminating in death, could be explained by pneumonia together with viral meningitis and/or a vaccine-induced encephalitis. Shaken Baby Syndrome has never caused pneumonia and meningitis. Baby Alan died of a vaccine reaction. – Harold E .Buttram, MD and F. Edward Yazbak, MD, May 2000, have written extensively of this case. Alan Yurko, baby Alan’s father, was convicted of SBS and is serving a life sentence, without parole, in a Florida prison.

Author Acknowledgement

– by Viera Scheibner, Ph D, Journal of Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 20 No. 2; 2001 August.

Another tragic case in the United States is that of a mother who has been jailed for life for allegedly shaking her quadruplets. The naturally conceived quadruplets were born two months prematurely, weighing around 3 lbs each. When the babies were three weeks old, they were given hepatitis B vaccine – following which, all four babies became ill and required hospitalization. Two babies ultimately required insertion of shunts in their brains to release blood and fluid as a result of subdural haemorrhages. Immediately the babies were hospitalized, the medical professionals made a diagnosis of SBS. These four babies are now scheduled for adoption and the maternal grandmother has been dismissed by state authorities as a possible candidate. – by Maureen Hickman, Nexus magazine (US) November-December 2000.

“It is only possible to exclude these other causes [NAI] by careful history taking, examination, appropriate and extensive testing, including assessment of nutritional status, enzyme levels, and assessing pathology of the liver, gut, kidneys, muscle, brain and heart. It is my view, based on the cases I have reviewed, that there is a tendency to assume that non-accidental injury has occurred in infants with subdural haemorrhage and retinal haemorrhage, and as a consequence of that assumption, there is a general failure in the first instance to pursue other potential causes or contributions to the injury as vigorously as would be expected.” – Dr. Mark Donohoe 1999.


  1. Joint Statement on Shaken Baby Syndrome – Health Canada – English
    Joint Statement on Shaken Baby Syndrome – Health Canada – French
  2. Patrick Barnes, M.D. “Ethical Issues in Imaging Nonaccidental Injury: Child Abuse” – Topics in Magnetic Resonance, vol. 13 No.2, 2002