‘Probes into infants’ death necessary for uncovering abuse'

Diagnosing the cause of death in infants is complicated by the lack of uniform practices in the Health Ministry.

February 15, 2012 04:14
2 minute read.
Baby twins (file)

baby twins 390. (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)

Diagnosing the cause of death in infants is complicated by the lack of uniform practices in the Health Ministry on which tests – including post mortem examinations and scans – must be done when a dead child reaches the hospital.

This was stated on Tuesday by Prof. Yona Amitai, chairman of the Israel Pediatric Society and until a few years ago head of the ministry’s Mother, Child and Adolescent Department.

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Amitai was speaking at the opening session of the National Council of the Child’s annual meeting at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

Knesset Children’s Rights Committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev asked whether it was time for the police to look into the subject of handling the cases of death in children. At present, unless police suspect foul play, parents can veto an autopsy.

Dr. Yoram Ben-Yehuda, former director of the pediatric emergency department at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, referred to the tragic case this week of the death of a baby after supposedly choking on his food.

“It is hard to accept this reason. Under the age of one year, there is a tendency to call sudden deaths of infants ‘crib death’ – but that is infuriating.”

He called for the establishment of a professional committee that would decide if an infant’s death requires an autopsy or less invasive examinations to determine the cause of death.

Ben-Yehuda added that the medical profession recognizes no specialty for a pediatric pathologist to perform autopsies on small children – even though it is well-known abroad.

The police are currently dealing with the well-known case of twins – one of whom died – after allegedly suffering from “shaken baby syndrome” at the hands of their parents.

Dr. Anat Shatz, chairman of an organization for research into and the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – presented data showing that analysis of SIDS cases abroad drastically brought down the rates in the Western world. But in Israel, the rate has not declined, she said.

The national council said that of over 600 cases a year of infant deaths, there are 150 involving an “unknown cause,” but that many of them really were caused by abuse.

A position paper prepared for the conference by the Knesset Information and Research Center found that the SIDS rate in the Arab population is three or four times that in the Jewish population, and much more common in baby girls than in baby boys, suggesting that abuse might be involved because girls in that culture are considered “less desirable.” But of the 247 police files involving Israeli infant deaths between 2008 and 2011, few of them have resulted in action taken against abusive adults, the conference was told.

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