Two Little Boys, One Big Problem

Photo from “Jordan Meissinger holds his newborn son. His joy was short-lived. When Baby Paxton was only 48 hours old, Arizona social workers took him away from his family. Photo provided by family.”

Two-day-old Paxton Meissinger was separated from his parents by the Arizona Department of Child Services (DCS), a victim not of abuse or neglect, but of his circumstances. His chances to nurse, to draw from his mother all the safety, warmth, and nourishment that lead experts to call his early months the “fourth trimester” have been stripped away, based on false allegations from a medical system out of touch with scientific reality.

Stolen Brothers

According to the story at Medical Kidnap, Paxton, who was born October 16, has a 16-month-old brother, Keaton, already in the custody of the state of Arizona. Parents Briana and Jordan may be days from bringing him home. But how much can the family rejoice in Keaton’s return (if he is returned) while the state is now holding Paxton?

In 2017, just after his two-month shots, Keaton suffered a life-threatening infection. Doctors at Banner Del Webb Hospital immediately started him on three strong antibiotics, then transferred him to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for a lumbar puncture. That’s where the family’s troubles began.

Despite the clear evidence and professional medical diagnosis that his symptoms, which were rapidly clearing with the administration of antibiotics, were caused by the bacterial infection, Child Abuse Pediatrician Cynthia Nelson at Phoenix Children’s found what is ominously called “the triad” —three symptoms which, taken together, can be used to accuse a parent of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” (SBS). The hospital called DCS, who took Keaton from his parents. The case has dragged on for a year through court delays and run-arounds.

When Paxton was born, a new anonymous call claimed the baby had been born 8 days prior, and that his parents were hiding him from DCS at their home. In reality, the baby was two days old and his mother, who had delivered him by C-section, was still in the hospital recovering. Yet, while the phoned-in allegation was demonstrably false, DCS got a warrant anyway and took the second Meissinger child.

After all, if the parents shook his older brother nearly to death, aren’t extreme measures needed to protect this child from becoming a victim of SBS as well?

Junk Science Diagnosis

In her 2014 book, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice, Deborah Tuerkheimer of Noerthwestern University School of Law exposes the circular reasoning behind this discredited diagnosis. The logic goes like this: Because SBS is a medical diagnosis, the only person qualified to testify to it in courts is the Child Abuse Pediatrician. A physicist may point out that shaking sufficient to cause this damage would snap the child’s neck, but he is not a doctor; what does he know? Another doctor may testify that the triad was caused by a virus or by a bacterial infection (as in Keaton’s case); but is he an expert in child abuse trauma? Of course not. So his testimony is invalid in this child abuse case.

For years courts adopted a judgment of guilt based on the pediatrician’s diagnosis, treating the doctor as an arbiter of guilt rather than a diagnostician of illness or injury. The courts became rubber stamps on the word of a doctor whose very career field depends on the hypothetical ability to diagnose guilt. As a result, on average 1,000 defendants were sentenced on charges of SBS every year from 1996 and 2006.

But in recent years, the tide has begun to turn, even to the point of seeing convictions overturned. The SBS diagnosis simply doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Courts of appeal have begun to recognize that if the science upon which the entire conviction is based has been overturned, the conviction itself must likewise be reversed. (See, for instance, State v. Edmonds, 2008 WI App33, 746 N.W.2d 590.)

Unfortunately, Arizona has been slow to get the memo. Doctors now conclude that the diagnosis with which Nelson accused the Meissingers of abuse has no underpinnings in science. Too many other possible causes for the triad exist according to Tuerkheimer, including a bacterial infection such as meningitis or encephalitis, either of which would have fit the family’s experience with Keaton.

Sadly, too many courts are still rubberstamping diagnoses rooted in junk science because a “child abuse pediatrician” says so. And without strong legal support for parental rights, there would be little anyone could do about it.

What We Can Do

But there are two things we can do. We can fight to raise the level of legal respect accorded to parental rights. And we can work to bring awareness to the cause and to the plight of families like the Meissingers.

Our Resolutionary Campaign is designed to serve both purposes: it will push the propose Parental Rights Amendment forward in Congress (which will demand legal respect for parental rights) and draw attention to the cause at the state and local level.

So please take a moment today to spread the word, perhaps by sharing this email, commenting on our Facebook page, or simply telling a friend. Consider volunteering to promote a resolution in your state. And give as you are able to continue this worthy cause.

Little boys like Paxton and Keaton belong in the arms of their parents, not squashed under the thumb of unnecessary state intervention. Step up today and help put an end to these abuses of the system.


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research

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