Magnarelli: Greater Public Awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome Needed

April 13, 2006

On November 17, 2000, eight-month-old Cynthia Gibbs died after reckless abuse by her babysitter. A month later, eleven-month-old Skipper Lithco III died after a similar trauma. Less than a year later, Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) took the life of seventeen-month-old DJ Anderson, Jr. and two-and-a-half-year-old Brittney Alexis Sheets.

Itís an unending story retold throughout New York and the nation. Innocent babies shaken with such force, whether a result of anger, frustration or inexperience, that they suffer permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy, blindness, seizures, paralysis, or death.

An estimated 1,000 to 3,000 cases of SBS occur each year in the United States and about 25% of these tiny victims will die. In New York, state statistics for 1999 show 38 SBS hospitalizations and five deaths, with 93 percent of SBS babies under the age of 1. However, the incidence of SBS is never fully detected and cases can be misdiagnosed because symptoms, which include irritability and lethargy, may not be immediately noticeable.

Shaken Baby Syndrome Week, April 17-21, is a way to shed light on SBS, which continues to take its toll. At the same time, I will do all I can to stop this abuse. Legislation I authored recently passed the Assembly, which requires all high school students to watch a video on SBS (A.6832). The film would include the consequences of shaking a baby and how to prevent it. The instruction would be part of the already required parenting education students receive before graduation.

For Cynthia Gibbs and all our children, I am sponsoring Cynthiaís Law (A.10539). The bill makes shaking babies a crime and requires New York Stateís Department of Health to start a SBS public health education campaign.

Both measures build on a law I authored in 2004, that requires hospitals and birth centers to show a video on the dangers of shaking babies to maternity patients and fathers (Ch. 219 of 2004).

Too many children have needlessly died and suffered because of this cruel, unthinking behavior. Itís time we combat this crime against our most vulnerable and defenseless persons. Through education and awareness we can help prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome in our communities.