PEDIATRICIANS group revises SIDS-infanticide policy after complaints

Tuesday, September 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ The nation's largest group of pediatricians has revised its policy on distinguishing sudden infant death syndrome from murder after getting complaints from medical examiners and parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics had said in February that all sudden, unexplained infant deaths should be investigated in hospital emergency rooms by a child abuse expert, out of concern that a small portion of SIDS deaths might actually be homicides.

The revision, published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, says that investigations of sudden, unexplained infant deaths should include ``appropriate utilization of available medical specialists by medical examiners and coroners.'' Such specialists could include pediatric pathologists, pediatricians and radiologists, the academy says.

The National Association of Medical Examiners had complained that the initial policy could result in illegal meddling with autopsies if outside experts examined bodies before they did.

The policy also angered some parents of SIDS babies, who worried that it made them appear guilty.

``It was like they were saying who cares what the medical examiner said, you abused your child,'' said Charlene Melcher, 38, of Orlando, Fla., whose son died of SIDS in 1998.

The amended policy ``provides pediatricians with information and guidelines to avoid distressing or stigmatizing families of sudden infant death syndrome victims while allowing accumulation of appropriate evidence in potential cases of death by infanticide,'' the academy said.

Dr. Randy Hanzlick, president of the medical examiners group, praised the revision and said medical examiners welcome working with outside experts to investigate unexplained infant deaths.

Experts do not know what causes SIDS, which kills about 3,000 infants a year, though theories include brain stem defects and heat stress.

The policy published in February stemmed from a few highly publicized cases and a 1997 report from British researchers who documented an alarming number of parents trying to suffocate their babies.

Dr. Henry Krous, a SIDS expert and pathologist at Children's Hospital of San Diego, praised the revised policy. But he said that having abuse experts assist medical examiners probably will not lead to an increase in SIDS cases being reclassified as murder because, like true SIDS, suffocation with a soft object leaves virtually no physical evidence.