Medical Child Abuse Panic

Munchausen, Mass Hysteria & Multnomah County

– October 15, 2017

“The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft—the Devil’s magic—and 20 were executed. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted. Since then, the story of the trials has become synonymous with paranoia and injustice, and it continues to beguile the popular imagination more than 300 years later.”

By Jess Blumberg


Martin Guggenheim, a Law Professor at New York University, compares the situation of parents charged with Medical Child Abuse (MCA) to that of women accused of witchcraft by “experts” in the 17th Century:

“If the expert declares you’re a witch, how in the world can you begin to prove that you’re not?”

Another shocking consistency in this comparison lies in the Medical Child Abuse literature’s description of the perceived overwhelming powers mothers accused of Medical Child Abuse have to control the will of highly regarded medical professionals. Yet another similarity rests in the fact that those accused of Medical Child Abuse are almost exclusively women.

[ information from ]

In 2013, a Governor’s Task Force in Michigan identified the now widely used “warning signs” that apply to the parents who are suspected of Medical Child Abuse:

  • A highly attentive parent/caretaker who is unusually reluctant to leave his/her child’s side.
  • A parent/caretaker who appears to thrive on the attention given to the child’s lack of response to medical treatment.
  • A parent/caretaker who appears to be abnormally calm in the face of complications in the child’s medical course.
  • A parent/caretaker who insists that the medical provider do more invasive procedures.
  • A parent/caretaker who demands second and third opinions.
  • A parent/caretaker who gets angry when demands are not met.
  • A parent/caretaker is not relieved or reassured when presented with negative test results.
  • A parent/caretaker who resists having the child discharged from the hospital.
  • The parent/caretaker may work in health care or have unusually detailed medical knowledge.

**Note: These warning signs also accurately describe many, if not most, highly-involved, appropriately-concerned,  loving and caring parents of medically fragile children.
Following are excerpts from a New York Times article By MAXINE EICHNER 
“The New Child Abuse Panic”

“FEW things are tougher for a parent than dealing with a child’s serious medical condition, particularly if it is complicated and hard to diagnose. The parent has to make hard choices about treatment, navigating conflicting advice from doctors or even rejecting one doctor’s opinion and seeking another.

Recently, the situation of these parents has gotten even harder. Some doctors and hospitals have begun to level a radical new charge — “medical child abuse” — against parents who, they say, get unnecessary or excessive treatment for their kids. That this care is usually ordered by other doctors hasn’t protected parents from these loaded accusations.”

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy:
“The term “medical child abuse” dates from the mid-1990s, as a condition related to Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disturbance in which a parent induces illness in a child to get attention. It has caught on with doctors over the last decade. But what constitutes “unnecessary medical care” — the heart of the test for medical child abuse — is vague and subjective. After all, doctors often disagree with one another when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of complicated conditions…”

“The precursor to medical child abuse, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, dates from 1977, when a British pediatrician published case studies of two mothers who had intentionally sickened their children — in one case, fatally — to get attention. However, controversy developed about whether this was a genuine psychological disorder, what motivated the mother (it is almost always mothers who are charged) and, critically, how to distinguish Munchausen mothers from those caring for genuinely sick kids. Munchausen charges were generally discredited after several mothers were shown to have been wrongly convicted based on grossly deficient expert testimony.

Sadly, while knowledge of Munchausen traveled across the Atlantic, skepticism about it did not. Starting in the mid-1990s, two doctors — Dr. Carole Jenny, a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, and her husband, Dr. Thomas A. Roesler, a psychiatrist — proposed that Munchausen’s stigma could be avoided by reconceptualizing the condition. Doctors, they said, shouldn’t focus on the parent’s mental state (as in Munchausen) but, instead, simply determine whether the child had received unnecessary and harmful, or potentially harmful, care at the behest of a parent. They defined “potentially harmful” to include any unnecessary medicine or diagnostic test that could have harmful side effects, even if the child wasn’t actually harmed. Such care, they argued, should be labeled medical child abuse, and treated like any other kind of child abuse.

But there is no solid evidence that their standard helps to sort out parents who intentionally use medical care to hurt their children from well-meaning, innocent parents. Indeed, Drs. Jenny and Roesler recognized that most kids identified by their criteria were truly sick (though they believe the kids received excessive, inappropriate care) and that their criteria identified far more parents than the standard Munchausen criteria.

Dr. Richard G. Boles, a mitochondrial disease specialist who has worked on some 100 cases involving suspected medical child abuse, said that only about five fit the classic Munchausen situation and should be considered abuse. Of the rest, he says, about two-thirds involved a demanding mother who got on a doctor’s nerves; the remainder involved a parent who was too anxious in dealing with doctors who couldn’t give adequate answers.”

Mass Hysteria:  
“In its zealotry, the medical child abuse movement resembles two other panics from the recent past: the sex-abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s and, more recently, the panic over shaken-baby syndrome. In both panics, experts saw foul play where none existed, government officials took their views at face value, and people were wrongly convicted and imprisoned, their lives ruined. Medical child abuse is causing similar harm.”

One example of the Child Abuse Mass Hysteria mentioned above got world-wide attention and occurred in Washington State, Oregon’s neighbor to the north. The injustices began in 1992 and became known as “The Wenatchee Witch Hunt”.   [ Wenatchee Witch Hunt: Child Sex Abuse Trials In Douglas and Chelan Counties ]

All told, in and around Wenatchee, WA, 43 adults were arrested and charged with 29,726 counts of sexually abusing 60 children.  With the help of Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), all 18 convictions were overturned.  Those still in prison serving time for  fictitious “crimes” were released and officially exonerated. local Law enforcement, Child Protective Services (CPS), and the Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) have faced decades of civil litigation associated with these events.

Multnomah County & its Faulty Appearance of a Medical Child Abuse Epidemic:

Since 2013, Multnomah County has seen an aggressive escalation in allegations of Medical Child Abuse against parents of children who have been appropriately diagnosed with serious, complicated illnesses.
Highly  concerning about this phenomenon is that reports, which then become open CPS cases (and sometimes criminal cases), involve the same or similar state actors, including prosecution teams, law enforcement/investigators, Family Court Judges, and CARES NW child abuse team members (CARES NW is the Portland, Oregon based Child Abuse Pediatrician sub-specialty group housed at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital).  It is worth noting that none of these actors have background or expertise in the diagnosed, complex medical conditions of the children they are removing from families as alleged “victims of Medical Child Abuse”.

Consistent in these cases is that investigators are frequently failing to include critical reports and medical records from Neurologists,  Gastroenterologists, Geneticists, Neurosurgeons, and other medical specialists who have been involved, often long term, in the care of the children alleged to have been Medically Abused.  Also disregarded is testimony from family, friends, children’s teachers, medical professionals, and other witnesses who offer statements in support of the accused parent(s).

Medical Child Abuse is not just related to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, it IS MSbP.  “Medical Child Abuse” is the new name slapped on what used to be called MSbP– which is, in and of itself, a widely discredited diagnosis. By identifying the child as a victim of abuse, it became possible to put a legal label on a doctor’s subjective opinion, and that opened the door for prosecution of parents. Calling Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy by a new name doesn’t change the junk science that it was, and still is.

With the Multnomah County DA’s Office aggressively alleging cases of Medical Child Abuse at an extraordinary rate that defies statistical probability, they may be headed for another “Wenatchee Witch Hunt” aftermath.

Traci Eccles

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