Tuesday, February 9, 2010
For Love and For Justice / Part 106 / Zabeth and Paul Bayne
Dr. John Plunkett on the Stand
On Monday morning I was fortunate to arrive early enough to meet Dr. John Plunkett who was called as a witness for Paul and Zabeth Bayne’s appeal. Baynes’ Attorney, Mr. Doug Christie, led Plunkett through the citation of his certifications and credentials in an effort to qualify him to testify in this court. MCFD lawyer Finn Jensen had opportunity to ask questions pertaining to these qualifications and twice referred to Plunkett as a ‘pathologist for hire.’ Plunkett informed Jensen that the majority of cases for which he testifies are pro bono, so Jensen inquired whether he could be called a ‘consultant for hire’, to which Plunkett said yes.
Plunkett retired five years ago in 2005 from a career as a forensic and general pathologist. He has been called to testify in over 100 cases in which SBS is an issue, on average about a dozen times per year. In most of the cases he testifies for the defence because over a period of recent years he has become convinced that infant head injury with respect to head trauma has been misunderstood and he has sought to educate himself as well as others. He was here today to express reasons why Shaken Baby Syndrome is an increasingly controversial area of diagnosis. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is, in essence, a medical diagnosis based solely on the presence of a diagnostic triad: retinal bleeding, bleeding in the protective layer of the brain, and brain swelling. Much scientific research in recent years has cast mounting doubt on the forensic significance of this triad, thereby undermining the foundations of thousands of SBS custody and criminal cases and convictions. In several countries this scientific evolution has prompted systemic reevaluations of the prosecutorial paradigm. Most recently, after a seventeen-month investigation costing $8.3 million in Ontario a commission, The Goudge Inquiry, recommended that all SBS cases be reviewed. Plunkett conveyed that he is among a growing group of experienced professionals, pathologists and mechanical engineers and even physicians who present alternative diagnoses to SBS. He spoke to the definition of subdural hematoma and differential diagnoses for the signs and symptoms that too frequently in his opinion result in an SBS diagnosis.
He expressed that Bethany Bayne’s medical reports and film work provided evidence that she had chronic subdural hematoma, that is evidence of trauma, blood vessel damage and bleeding as long as three weeks before admission at Vancouver Children’s Hospital. It surprised him that a CT scan had not been ordered for her at any of the prior examinations in three area hospitals as the Baynes made six visits to healthcare facilities to discover what was wrong with her. Her condition should have been determined earlier because the signs were significant. In his estimation the only explanation was that she had an event three weeks earlier which fit the subdural bleeding and that there was no other evidence of any other attributable cause. The event which the Baynes reported of one child impacting the other accidentally three weeks before VCH saw her was consistent with the film work and reports. In his estimation shaking could not possibly produce this subdural hematoma. There was structural brain damage which caused the subdural hematoma and shaking could not affect this. He adamantly feels that a physician should never decide whether an injury is accidentally or non accidentally caused. Further, his conviction is that before submitting a report that may be the primary focus for a child custody or criminal investigation, a physician should consult with biomechanical engineers.
The reports of at least ten medical experts who agree with Dr. Plunkett's assessment are available for you to read at a site dedicated to the Bayne Plea. These were presented on Monday in court. (access them by clicking the link in the underlined sentence.)
A group of about twenty supporters of the Baynes silently and lawfully stood with signs outside the Court House yesterday, asking for children to be returned.