Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University
of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.
Silent Injustice primarily consists of four
high-profile cases in which young women were charged with killing their infants.
The author, who was an expert witness during the trials, argues that the women
were innocent and that the prosecutions were wrong. The cases serve as a springboard
for the author's strong opinions about the injustice of how the medical and
legal systems treat women whose babies die.
The first case occupies two thirds of the total pages devoted to case
descriptions. A young English woman who had told no one that she was pregnant
and who thought that she was no longer pregnant went on holiday with her boyfriend
and several of his friends to New York City. When the men went out for a night
on the town, the woman delivered a baby, which she wrapped up. She later claimed
that the baby had never cried. As she was passing through the airport on the
way back to England, the dead baby in her carry-on was found. Ultimately pleading
guilty to manslaughter, she was placed on probation. Dr Gilbert-Barness argues
that the child had an umbilical cord so twisted as to be incompatible with
life and had not been born alive. She expresses scorn for the prosecutor (one
of the leading child abuse prosecutors in the country) and emphasizes how
nice the young woman was. The net effect is a story with little balance about
how the case was viewed by others, too much emphasis on personality, and insufficient
medical detail to facilitate understanding by medical readers. The critique
of the medical evidence seems eclipsed by medical arguments regarding infanticide
and prosecution practices (seemingly disparate issues). For example, beyond
the assertion that the umbilical cord was fatally twisted, no information
is added about the response of the original medical examiner to the author's
conclusion nor about the mechanism of how the fetus would have died on the
verge of being born.
Alexander R. Infanticide. JAMA. 2004;291(3):376-377. doi:10.1001/jama.291.3.376