Shaken Faith: Failed by the System, Baby Rehma's Parents Try to Change It
Nada Siddiqui and Sameer Sabir would have celebrated their daughter Rehma's 10th birthday this week. The Massachusetts couple should have had all the smiles and hugs and laughter and joy that children bring to parents. And Rehma should have had her life.
But they were cheated.
Nine years ago this week, Rehma was entrusted to the care of her Irish nanny, Aisling Brady McCarthy. When Nada came home from work Rehma was non-responsive. It would emerge that a neighbor had heard her screaming and had pounded on their door. No one answered.
Rehma was rushed to the hospital, where physicians found severe bleeding inside her skull, massive swelling of the brain and cranial bruises. Police found Rehma's blood on baby wipes throughout the home. A piece of drywall was dislodged from behind her changing table, "consistent with being damaged by forceful contact with the corner" of the table, according to police.
Rehma was pronounced brain-dead 48 hours later.
A state-employed medical examiner found that Rehma's death was caused by "blunt force trauma," ruling it a homicide. The murder charges against McCarthy made international news. McCarthy, who was unable to provide any explanation for the evidence to the police, maintained her innocence but was held as a flight risk.
Her defense team did what lawyers do, engaging a bevy of doctors to offer an even bigger bevy of contradictory theories about what might have explained Rehma's death. All were refuted by Rehma's pediatrician and by Dr. Alice Newton, the child abuse specialist who examined Rehma's case while she lay in a coma.
Shortly before trial, the medical examiner who had issued Rehma's autopsy report altered it, changing the cause of death from "homicide" to "undetermined." The district attorney, who dropped all charges against McCarthy, first assured Rehma's parents that there would be an independent medical review, and then reneged. McCarthy went back to Ireland. And Siddiqui and Sabir, who had suffered the grievous death of their baby and then could not get an answer to how the overwhelming evidence against McCarthy could count for nothing, had yet more pain to come: messages insulting their faith or their national origin and cruel, misogynistic comments about mothers of young children who go back to work.
The story was recently profiled by CNN's chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta. His series, "Justice for Rehma," examined the established science behind shaken baby syndrome, also known as abusive head trauma, and the band of physicians who deride the diagnosis as "fake." Child abuse specialists disagree. "Pseudo experts have falsely claimed that a debate is raging in the medical community about whether abusive head trauma is a real diagnosis," Dr. Newton says. "Let me be clear. There is no controversy."
A bill sits in the Massachusetts Legislature that would reduce the chances that politics, pressure or questionable competence will prevent parents from learning the truth about their young children's deaths. The Office of the Massachusetts Medical Examiner's website states that it exists to "investigate the cause and manner of deaths that occur under violent, suspicious or unexplained circumstances." The bill simply requires that where the deaths of children under 2 are involved, autopsy findings must be reviewed and approved by the chief medical examiner. This way, the staff physicians know that their findings about such deaths will be reviewed by the head of their office.
This seems like Accountability 101. The Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians endorses the bill, stating that "(r)equiring a formal review process will lead to more confidence from parents, community and society in general." But the Chief Medical Examiner herself, paid a mere $420,000 a year, opposes it on grounds that may be summarized thusly: "I'd rather not have to do it.
Rehma's parents are not waiting around for bureaucrats to act against type. In 2014 they established The Rehma Fund for Children to support care for sick children. In that way they are ensuring that their daughter's memory, as the Jewish expression puts it, "is for a blessing."
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.