Photo of the week: Baby of mine


Controversial statements made this week by famous pathologist Werner Jacobs have got people talking about sudden infant death syndrome

Term ‘Sids’ used ‘much too often’

A Mechelen baby got his two-month check-up at Flemish family agency Kind en Gezin this week. The agency offers 10 periodic free consultations until a child is 2.5 years old.

Kind en Gezin was in the news this week in connection with statements made by famous Flemish pathologist Werner Jacobs. The doctor was a guest on talk show Van Gils & gasten in support of his new book, De doden praten (The Dead Speak).

Jacobs is a well-known face in the region for his appearance on TV programmes Misdaaddokters (Crime Doctors) and Wetsdokters (Pathologists). He has also been the pathologist on high-profile homicide cases in Flanders.

His statements on Van Gils were about sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), also known as crib death. “The term is used much too often, even when it is not an accurate diagnosis,” said Jacobs. “Sids is a sudden and unexpected death of a child younger than 18 months in which the cause of death could not be determined by an investigation and an autopsy.”

Always a cause

But that term is used even when autopsies are not carried out, he said, meaning Sids is attributed to deaths that have a determinable cause. “Pathologists can almost always find a cause of death,” he said.

Jacobs went on to say that there would be very few actual deaths attributed to Sids if an autopsy was always carried out. “If I carried out an investigation into 50 deaths that have been registered as Sids, and I found one that was actually Sids, that would be a lot.”

There are many natural causes of death in infants, including bacterial infections, oxidation disorders and metabolic defects. Infants are also at greater risk of suffocating, hypothermia and overheating.

If a child dies, and I investigate that death, there is a very good chance that I will find a cause

- Dr Werner Jacobs

“In about 20% of the cases that I investigate, I see signs of abuse,” said Jacobs. “The other 80% are mostly natural deaths. I also see cases where babies are sleeping with their parents, and the parents accidentally roll onto them. These are certainly not murders. My point is: If a child dies, and I investigate that death, there is a very good chance that I will find a cause.”

Some parents and members of the medical community were shocked by Jacobs’ statements as they felt he was putting too much blame on parents. Flemish author Kristien Hemmerechts, who has lost two babies to Sids, appear on Van Gils the following evening to discuss the issue.

She believes, she said, in autopsies for all crib deaths. “But to offer something positive,” she said, “not to give parents the feeling that they did something wrong with their child or that they’re guilty but rather to show them that they are not responsible, that they are not guilty. That it could have been due to kidney or heart failure.”