Doctors Choking on Bad Medicine

At a Wisconsin hospital, a doctor—a doctor!— and his family are finding out the hard way that the medical system is stacked against innocent families. And he has plenty of company.

If you’ve followed us for any length of time, you already know I’m no fan of the new “pediatric child abuse” subspecialty adopted by the American Medical Association in 2012. The specialty confers unmerited authority and respect that is destroying innocent families in too many unquestioning courts.

After his recent run-in with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Dr. John Cox would strongly agree.

John’s story was recently highlighted in a feature article and lengthy follow-up at NBC News.

In a nutshell, here’s John’s story: he was resting with his month-old adoptive daughter one morning, when he awoke to the sound of her crying. In a panic, he realized his body had shifted, and he was lying partially on top of her.

In tears, the pediatric physician called his wife, also a physician, who was out of town. Together they checked the baby over, and because they were concerned that she may have a broken collar bone, they decided John should take her in. He took the girl to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin (or “Children’s Wisconsin”), where both parents are on staff.

And that’s when their real nightmare began.

More Than a Dozen Doctors on Their Side

Because of the nature of the injury, the attending physician called in the Child Abuse team at the hospital—not because he feared abuse, but because he wanted to treat his friends the same as he would anybody else. He knew it wasn’t abuse, so there was nothing to fear in having the team confirm that.

However, the team called in Child Protective Services (CPS), and in short order, the little girl was removed from her parents’ care. That was eight months ago, and the couple hasn’t seen her since.

Now here’s the crazy part: the couple have more than a dozen doctors who have reviewed the case and taken their side. But that has not been sufficient medical expertise in court to counter the “expert” testimony of just two child-abuse pediatricians.

One child-abuse pediatrician claims the girl had multiple bruises when she was examined, marks she calls “sentinel injuries,” or early signs of abuse. (The head of the child-abuse pediatrics team at Children’s Wisconsin is Dr. Lynn Sheets, who coined the phrase “sentinel injuries” in 2013.)

Yet, no fewer than seven dermatologists—experts in the skin and marks thereon—have determined that the blemishes were birthmarks, misdiagnosed as “widespread contusions.”

Kate Judson is a Madison lawyer who reviewed the case and was quoted in the first NBC article:

“What’s striking to me is that you have these leaps in logic that are unsupported,” Judson said. “So you have a nurse practitioner here saying, ‘Well, I can determine with accuracy and certainty that this bruise was intentionally inflicted.’ And then you have a dermatologist, who is unquestionably an expert in the examination of skin lesions, who’s saying, ‘Well, this isn’t even a bruise.’”

The child-abuse specialists also claimed in court that blood tests had ruled out the possibility of any medical condition that could cause the baby to bruise easily—a claim that outraged the baby’s mother, Dr. Sadie Dobrozsi.

A pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Dobrozsi is an expert in reading the results of those tests for herself (as well as for her patients), and she knew better. “The labs indicated a delay in how quickly the baby’s blood formed clots, which suggested a possible bleeding disorder and should have resulted in a referral for more extensive testing, according to four hematologists…who have since reviewed the records,” NBC reported.

But if seven dermatologists can’t outweigh the opinion of a single child-abuse pediatrician in the courtroom, what hope is there for only four hematologists? Sure, they are actually experts in blood, with special training in reading blood tests and diagnosing these conditions.

Flawed Practice

Sadly, child-abuse pediatricians have been specially trained to see child abuse lurking behind every injury or mark.

NBC News quoted Dr. Nancy Harper, a child-abuse pediatrician from Minnesota whom CPS hired to review the case: “‘In summary, there is no explanation for [the baby’s] injuries other than trauma,’ Harper wrote, according to the criminal complaint [subsequently filed against Dr. Cox]. ‘This constellation of injuries, including cutaneous trauma and a clavicle fracture, is clinically diagnostic of child abuse.’”

Yet this statement is demonstrably false. A car accident can cause “cutaneous trauma” (bruising) and “a clavicle (collar bone) fracture.” A fall can cause the same symptoms. In simple fact, there are any number of ways these symptoms can occur, which means the symptoms are not “clinically diagnostic” of any one of those medical diagnoses, least of all child abuse. (I say “least of all” because child abuse is not a legitimate medical diagnosis at all; it is a legal finding.)

Deborah Turkheimer, in Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice (Oxford, 2014), refers to this as “a medical diagnosis of crime.” By claiming an expertise in spotting child abuse, these specialists are permitted to medically diagnose a legal verdict in family courts, as though such a thing were possible.

The field is supported by circular reasoning. The child-abuse pediatricians are considered the experts, but only because the court has precluded that abuse has taken place. If the injuries are not due to abuse, these experts have no special medical expertise at all.

They certainly don’t know skin as a dermatologist does or blood as a hematologist does. But the courts listen to these so-called experts without question.

As a result, John and Sadie have lost their little girl.

“It Has to End”

Because their adoption was not finalized before their daughter was taken, John and Sadie have been denied full parental rights. And because of the charges leveled against John—a pediatrician now charged with child abuse—his entire career is in jeopardy, as well.

Unsurprisingly, John has resigned his position at the hospital that has destroyed his family.

“What has and is happening is not medicine,” Dobrozsi told NBC for their report, and rightly so. “It is ego and arrogance and power. And it has to end.”

The Parental Rights Foundation couldn’t agree more.

One physician from Children’s Wisconsin who was quoted by NBC on condition of anonymity expressed our concern very well.

“I agree that children are abused and that we need to protect them. But it seems there’s a total disregard for the harm done to the child and family when there’s a complete medical workup done and charges brought when it’s not really abuse.”

It is clear from the evidence reported by NBC that such is the current case. More doctors with greater expertise have spoken out for John’s innocence than for any indication of abuse. But CPS and the courts continue to run ahead, on the unquestioned word of child-abuse pediatricians, whose specialization and expertise stems only from their own self-assessment and overconfidence.

“We are the specialists because we know abuse, and we know abuse because we are the specialists,” they will tell you.

Yet they can’t even see the abuse they cause in ripping a child from her loving home.

It is time the American Medical Association stop the charade and protect innocent families like Doctors Cox and Dobrozsi by ending the licensing of this harmful subspecialty. American families deserve better of their medical professionals, and we deserve better of our courts, as well.

Support the work of the Parental Rights Foundation with your generous donation here. Together we can bring change to the laws and policies that are harming so many families, and restore respect for the natural, traditional role of parents as their child’s first and best line of defense. We cannot do it without you!


Michael Ramey

Executive Director


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