Analysis And Comment Special report

Was message of sudden infant death study misleading?

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39031.590914.68 (Published 30 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1165
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1London E1 7LQ
  1. [email protected]

    An investigation by the BMJ has uncovered serious concerns about an important paper on sudden infant deaths recurring within a family. The paper has featured in the appeal case at several recent high profile murder appeals and has also influenced international practice

    In January 2005 the Lancet published an analysis of data on babies born to parents who had previously had a baby who died suddenly and unexpectedly.1 John Emery, a highly respected paediatric pathologist and expert on sudden infant death, was listed as the paper's seventh author, although he died in May 2000, more than two years before the first draft was completed and three years before the paper was submitted to the Lancet. The six other authors acknowledged in the paper that Professor Emery was “largely responsible for the setting up of this study and for investigation of the earlier cases” but played no part in drafting it. However, they did not make clear that after Professor Emery's death they recategorised deaths that he had classed as unnatural or of indeterminate cause as natural deaths. Furthermore, evidence of Professor Emery's views shortly before his death in May 2000 suggests that his name has been used to support a conclusion with which he would not have agreed.

    Provenance

    The paper analysed deaths of babies in the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death's Care of the Next infant scheme, which was set up to support parents with a history of sudden infant death. The lead author was the statistician Robert Carpenter. An honorary professor in the Medical Statistics Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Carpenter had worked alongside Professor Emery for 30 years. Another of the authors was Alison Waite, a health visitor and the national head of the scheme, who had been …

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