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DOCTOR

Doctor charged over baby’s death

The paediatrician suspected of the alleged mercy killing of a baby at Astrid Lindgren's Children's Hospital in Stockholm in September 2008 has been charged with manslaughter.

Doctor charged over baby's death

The doctor is suspected of having deliberately administered a high dose of the anaesthetic Pentothal in combination with morphine in order to speed up the baby’s death.

The prosecutor, Peter Claeson, explained in a press release on Monday that he expects to secure a conviction in court and that the prosecution’s case is based on forensic reports and witness testimony from those present at the time of the baby’s death on September 20th 2008.

“The evidence is strong,” Claeson said to news agency TT, arguing that the doctor and no one else is responsible for the baby’s death.

The three-month-old baby was terminally ill with serious brain damage after having been born 15 weeks premature. The birth was complicated and the baby was born unconscious due to a lack of oxygen.

The baby girl’s condition worsened when a nurse administered an overdose of saline solution at birth.

A subsequent ultrasound revealed that the newborn had suffered from cerebral haemorrhaging on both sides of her brain.

The case has generated a heated debate in Sweden.

Medical colleagues and the unions have roundly criticized the police and prosecutors for their handling of the case following the public arrest of the doctor at her place of work in March 2009.

The doctor was subsequently released from custody after a successful appeal from her lawyer, Björn Hurtig, and denies any wrongdoing. She has been suspended from her position at the hospital throughout the course of the investigation.

A report from Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) published in October 2009 cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing in connection with the baby’s death.

“We’ve reviewed all available documentation and spoken with healthcare workers and the information we’ve collected is in order. We can’t see that there were any shortcomings in the care and handling of the little girl,” Staffan Blom, head regional supervisor at the board, said at the time.

The board did however confirm the findings from an autopsy conducted on the baby which found abnormally high levels of both Pentothal and morphine in the child’s blood.

Staffan Blom confirmed that the board could not explain the existence of the anaesthetic as its use was not mentioned anywhere in the medical records.

Manslaughter carries a penalty of between six and ten years in prison in Sweden.

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HEALTH

Acupuncture could help your baby stop crying: study

Swedish researchers say acupuncture "appears to reduce crying" in babies suffering from colic.

Acupuncture could help your baby stop crying: study
File photo of a five-week old baby. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

But their work was criticized by colleagues in the medical field, with one calling the study methodology “appalling”.

A duo from Lund University's medicine faculty tested the traditional Chinese needle-piercing remedy in a trial involving nearly 150 babies between two and eight weeks old.

They reported their results in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, published by the BMJ – formerly known as the British Medical Journal.

Compared to babies who did not undergo the needle treatment, infants who received acupuncture over two weeks exhibited “a significant relative reduction” in crying, the team found.

Such research can be controversial. Acupuncture is invasive, potentially painful, and its benefits are not universally accepted.

Organizations such as the British Medical Acupuncture Society says it is used to treat muscle and postoperative pain, as well as nausea.

But some think acupuncture's effects are that of a placebo, meaning people feel better because they believe it works. The National Institutes of Health, the main UN research agency, says there is “considerable controversy” around its value.

Colic affects as many as one in five families, and is diagnosed when a baby cries for more than three hours per day on more than three days per week.

Why it occurs is not well understood. Indigestion, trapped wind and intolerance to cows' milk have been identified as possible causes.

For the study, colicky babies were divided into three groups of 49. One received “minimal” acupuncture treatment, while another was given up to five 30-second needlings per session. The third group was not given any needle treatment.

“Significantly fewer infants who received acupuncture continued to cry/fuss excessively,” the researchers concluded.

This suggested “acupuncture may be an effective treatment option” for babies crying more than three hours a day.


File photo of an adult person receiving acupuncture. Photo: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Criticism of the study was harsh. David Colquhoun, a professor of pharmacology at University College London, described the researchers' analysis of data as “incompetent” and “appalling”.

The study “certainly doesn't show that it [acupuncture] works”, he told the Science Media Centre.

“What parent would think that sticking needles into their baby would stop it crying? The idea sounds bizarre. It is.”

Edzard Ernst from the University of Exeter said the study showed “almost the opposite of what the authors conclude”.

“We know that colicky babies respond even to minimal attention, and this trial confirms that a little additional TLC” – Tender Loving Care – “will generate an effect”.

A total of 388 acupuncture treatments were performed on the babies, the authors reported. On 200 occasions the infant did not cry at all after being pierced, 157 times they cried for up to a minute, and 31 times for more than that.

“The acupuncturists reported bleeding (a single drop of blood) on 15 occasions,” the authors said.

The treatment “may be considered ethically acceptable” if it managed to reduce excessive crying in the longer term, they added.

The report did not indicate what acupuncture points were used.

Article written by AFP's Mariètte Le Roux.