Directed by: Meryl Goldsmith
Starring: Dr. Ronald Uscinski, Dr. John Plunkett, Dr. Patrick Barnes
Meryl Goldsmith’s The Syndrome delves into the controversial subject of the widely recognizable “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” perpetuated as a diagnosis in child abuse cases in the 1970’s and according to The Syndrome, propagated out of control, being used as a conclusive finding for infant fatalities and injuries that showed such symptoms as brain swelling, seizures, and bleeding behind the retinas. While “Shaken Baby Syndrome (or SBS) has been a widely accepted diagnosis for decades, there have been a growing number of medical experts who now question the validity of the diagnoses. This film is the awakening of a scientific misconception.
Within the documentary you learn of the many shocking incongruities in the SBS hypothesis. This dark matter has destroyed families, people’s lives, and reputations. Dr. John Plunkett, a forensic pathologist, was the first professional to question the legitimacy of SBS in 1986. What startled Plunkett the most within his research is that you cannot cause brain damage by shaking without first causing neck damage. “I have never seen a case in which there has been neck damage. None,” states Dr. Plunkett. In reviewing each child abuse case that involves what is thought to be SBS, we must recognize the dozens of other conditions that can look just like it. Many pre-existing medical conditions can mimic SBS that often go undiagnosed, and this also includes undocumented falls from as few as six inches.
The concept of SBS originally came about from a miss reading of Dr. Ayub K. Ommaya’s experiment with rhesus monkeys in the 1960’s. The experiment involved the monkeys being in a simulated car accident at 30 miles an hour to study whiplash injury and brain damage. The physicians analyzing the experiment most likely did not understand the experiment, forgetting that neck injuries were caused by the whiplash, rather than just head injuries.
In the documentary Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a neurosurgeon and professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at Georgetown Medical School, discusses his relationship with Dr. Ayub Ommaya, who was both his friend and his teacher. Dr. Uscinski was also one of the defense physicians for the famous Louise Woodward case. Ms. Woodward, a former au pair, was indicted on charges for the shaking death of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen in 1997. Medically speaking and going back to the original evidence, Dr. Uscinski concluded before he testified that there was no way that Ms. Woodward could have done what she was charged for.
The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, based in Utah in America, is thoroughly convinced that they are right with their theory. “Not only do they feel that they are right but they are righteous about it. That is a line of thinking that does not respond to rationality,” explains Dr. Uscinski. “Proponents of SBS are very well placed. They know very well how to tug at people’s heartstrings,” says Dr. Uscinski.
The Syndrome, according to Meryl Goldsmith took between three and five years to make. While discussing the making and uncovering of the SBS theory, Goldsmith highlighted specifically how hundreds of people were in prison for these crimes for as long as ten to twenty years and many are still behind bars. People are currently being exonerated for these crimes now as the case is revisited and evidence is analyzed.
The Syndrome takes the viewer on a journey through various first-person accounts of dealing with the SBS theory, unwrapping it layer by layer, discovering its faults and its repercussions. This includes rare interrogation footage and courtroom transcriptions from notable SBS cases.
With the evidence that this documentary shares, it’s predicted that there will be a lot of shaken baby appeals granted in the next couple of years. Award-winning journalist and cousin of Meryl Goldsmith, Susan Goldsmith, highlights these astonishing pieces of evidence against SBS and how the growing scientific movement against the theory is coming to the defense of hundreds of individuals currently in prison for shaken baby. The other roadblock that is faced with changing the way SBS is defined, are the legal ramifications of altering it. It could potentially be as huge as tobacco science was.
The more The Syndrome delved into this subject matter, the more it was revealed how bizarre and startling this syndrome really is. This is a film that focuses on the facts now coming to light rather than the blur that the syndrome has caused for so many people, for so many years.