Two Reasons Why SIDS Can be Undiagnosed Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Reason 2

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) became popularized in the 1980s. It is a term used as a cause of death when an infant dies suddenly of unknown causes.

Contrary to popular belief, SIDS has been debunked as an actual disease entity. There are two main reasons for this. I explain the reason one in my previous post, and in this post, I describe reason two.

Reason 2: SIDS was Invented Based on an MSbP Case

Waneta Hoyt: The Perpetrator Who Helped Invent SIDS

On Sept. 11, 1995, Waneta Hoyt, age 49, was sentenced to 75 years-to-life in prison for “depraved indifference to human life” for suffocating her five children who were infants.  These murders were accompanied by extensive MSbP behavior, which was mainly inducing and fabricating respiratory diseases in her children by smothering them with items like a pillow, a towel, and even her shoulder.

She did not actually admit to the murders until 20 years after the last child died.  During this 20 years, it was believed that all of her infants died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). That is because the doctor who invented SIDS, Dr. Alfred Steinschneider, came up with SIDS based on her case.

Dr. Steinschneider, who treated Hoyt’s children, couldn’t figure out why they kept dying.

So he invented SIDS.

Dr. Alfred Steinschneider: The Doctor Who Invented SIDS

In 1970, Hoyt’s fourth child was born, and it was believed she had already lost three babies to a mysterious illness that apparently caused the infants to stop breathing. Dr. Steinschneider was called in as an expert, and though he hospitalized and monitored her remaining two children with his staff in the hospital around the clock to prevent their deaths, they died anyway.

Dr. Steinschneider went on to publish a scientific paper on laboratory monitoring to try to prevent SIDS deaths, thus becoming the famous proponent of the SIDS classification of infant death. It’s unclear why he became an expert because he did not actually save these children, even though they were under his watch! In fact, it turned out, he was guilty of … something. Was it malpractice, or murder?

Central monitoring station in a hospital.

Hoyt is Guilty of Murder, and Steinschneider is Guilty of…?

It turns out that Hoyt was found guilty of smothering her children, and she went to jail.  Steinschneider was never prosecuted.  He was obviously guilty of malpractice – such serious malpractice that it literally caused the deaths of these two children because of his lack of accurate diagnosis and treatment. But was he guilty of being an accessory to murder?

Even at the time of the article’s publication in 1972, Steinschneider’s professional judgment in the case was questioned by many.  Some doctors who read Steinschneider’s article thought Hoyt obviously smothered her children and he was naïve to come up with medical reasons for the deaths.  Dr. Linda Norton, a medical examiner in Texas, singled out Steinschneider’s article as an example of the way the medical establishment covers up these murders.

The prosecutor in Hoyt’s case asked: How could a doctor not realize that the last two children who died under his care were in harm’s way?

He asked, essentially, was Steinschneider more concerned with his theory of SIDS, or with his patients?  The nurses caring for the family also seemed to be in two opposite camps:  Those who agreed with Steinschneider’s theory, and those who observed that Hoyt did not seem attached to her babies and exhibited strange behavior.  Nurses who observed Hoyt’s strange behavior reported bringing their concerns to Steinschneider, but these concerns were dismissed.

In 1997, a Los Angeles Times article published quotes from the nurses who cared for the Hoyt children:

“I just know something’s going to happen…One of these times she’s going to do it…If  [Steinschneider] had any brains at all he would have seen that she [Hoyt] didn’t want the baby…You can tell in the grocery store if a person cares about their child. We were just disgusted with Steinschneider.”

One nurse said to Steinschneider, “Don’t you want to know what’s going on in that home?” and asked him if the baby really needed all these monitor leads that made her chest raw. Of course, he countered.  The leads were necessary because the baby had apnea (trouble breathing).

“He so believed in what he was doing…To him this was just a bunch of opinion from nurses…”

Nurses interacting with baby.

Steinschneider’s invention of SIDS as the reason for infanticide (usually as a result of MSbP behavior) can be credited to have greatly accelerated the promotion of the myth that many murdered MSbP victims actually died of a condition called SIDS.  As described in a 2010 article in the Forensic Examiner about mothers who engaged in MSbP behavior during the time SIDS was considered an emerging epidemic:

The mystery of how these women eluded suspicion is really no mystery at all; they were accomplished liars, and it helped that medical science had settled on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as an explanation … these women got away with their crimes for years because so few of us are willing to acknowledge that women are as capable of cool and calculating brutality as men are, again relying on the myth that females are incapable of such monstrosities (blog author’s emphasis).

So did Steinschneider ever apologize?

No, but the journal that published his original erroneous paper named Pediatrics did with a commentary in 1997 that said:

“With justification the public is bewildered at how such a heinous crime could go undetected for so many years, and how a prestigious medical journal could publish a paper that had so much influence and yet turned out to be so wrong.  The Hoyt case, along with others where homicide was thought to have been misdiagnosed as SIDS, has given new strength to those who have always suspected parents of being responsible for a high proportion of the deaths of infants who die suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Do you have a story of a healthcare provider who you think engaged in Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy behavior?

Comment on this blog and tell us your story!

Photographs by US Navy and Israeli Defense Forces.

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