“The Syndrome”: documentary on “abusive head trauma”, formerly “shaken baby” deaths and prosecutorial abuse


Name: The Syndrome
Director, writer:  Meryl Goldsmith, Susan Goldsmith
Released:  2014
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Cato Institute showing, Washington DC, 2016/7/14
Length 90
Rating NA (PG-13?)
Companies: Freestyle Releasing
Link: official site

The Syndrome”, directed by Meryl Goldsmith, examines the history of the “shaken baby syndrome” prosecutions, which have only recently morphed into “abusive head trauma”  cases.  From the early 1990s, there has developed a wave of cases of ordinary parents, mostly mothers but sometimes babysitters or caregivers, prosecuted for killing children on what appears to be a pattern of opportunistic prosecution and questionable or even junk science.

The syndrome is identified by doctors by three or more specific diagnostic factors.  In most or all states, when doctors find a case, they are required to call law enforcement.  That reality alone could discourage parents from seeking proper medical treatment in situations where parents know they had done nothing wrong. The film traces the work particularly of Dr. John Plunkett, in Minnesota, and George Washington University Hospital surgeon Ayub Ommaya, which maintains that a small baby cannot sustain brain trauma without neck trauma, and that a baby’s neck is not strong enough to transmit the trauma of shaking.

The film covers a number of women and families who were prosecuted with convictions and prison terms, resulting in what seem like wrongful convictions (compare this to the Andrew Jenks film “Dream/Killer” listed in the Index).

The film also covered the “politics” of the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome and Abusive Head Trauma. The “politicians” resisted the efforts of Plunkett, to the point of trying to launch a fake prosecution from Oregon. Later the film captures a sing-song session from one of the meetings in Atlanta. The organization refused to be interviewed for the film or to appear at the Cato session where the film was screened tonight.

The film had difficulty getting into film festivals but eventually was picked up commercially.

QA clips:

1:  I had asked a question about whether ordinary parents face an existential danger by even having kids, something that discourages taking the risks of marriage and parenthood


3   A doctor plays devil’s advocate



(Published: Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 11:30 PM)