PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Dr. Cutz and many other researchers theorize that babies who die suddenly and unexpectedly have underlying heart, brain or other abnormalities that cause them to go to sleep and never wake up. In other words, while they may look, sound and act like healthy, normal babies, they have a condition that puts them at greater risk of sudden unexpected death."
STORY: "Undetermined" by reporter Carly Weeks, published by The Globe and Mail on March 30, 2017.
SUB-HEADING: A decision by Canadian coroners to stop using the term SIDS to classify mysterious infant deaths has generated confusion among mourning parents, consternation from scientists and raised an unsettling question: Does SIDS exist?
PHOTO CAPTION: "Sarah Cormier lost Quinn in December, 2014. After being told it was a classic case of SIDS, the medical examiner later ruled the manner of death to be ‘undetermined,’ leaving the family with unanswered questions and the feeling they caused her death."
GIST: "It turns out the Cormiers’ ('undetermined') report came during a major shift in the way mysterious infant deaths are classified. A decision by Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to abandon the term SIDS in 2014 followed a similar trend by coroners and medical examiners elsewhere in Canada and other countries, who were phasing out the term altogether, except in some rare instances. Since there is no single identifiable cause of SIDS, nor a diagnostic test to confirm it, death investigators wanted a more accurate descriptor for cases of unexplained infant death. Across the country, that means deaths that would once have been called SIDS are now being classified using a combination of terms such as “undetermined” and “sudden unexpected death.” The decision to eschew SIDS goes well beyond semantics. It’s turned into a fundamental disagreement over whether the condition even exists. On one side are coroners and medical examiners who say the term has become largely meaningless because it doesn’t provide insight into the cause of death. They say too many infant deaths, even those where accidental suffocation is the likely cause, are being lumped into that broad category. On the other side are doctors, researchers and parents who point to brain or other genetic abnormalities among infants who have died suddenly as proof SIDS is a real medical condition that must be further explored so a cause can be found. The decision to retire SIDS is creating significant worry among them that the once-ubiquitous term will soon disappear. And along with it, the chance to figure out what is causing these mysterious deaths – as well as how to prevent more from occurring.........“One of the challenges is that people say SIDS is a disorder and we don’t know that,” said Ms. Lapointe, who is also chief coroner with the British Columbia Coroners Service. “SIDS was made to define unexplained deaths. There’s no proof that it’s a disorder.” In Manitoba, Mark O’Rourke, a spokesperson for the coroner’s office, was more blunt: “It’s just an acronym. It’s not a disease.” It’s a point of view that deeply troubles Ernest Cutz, one of Canada’s foremost SIDS experts who recently retired as a pathologist from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “You call it undetermined [and] the file is closed, parents are left without having the answers,” he said in a recent interview. “[SIDS] is a rare pediatric disease which needs to be addressed.” Dr. Cutz argues the shift to “undetermined” is largely the result of high-profile cases of infant deaths that were initially ruled as SIDS, but later found to be homicides. One of the best known examples is Waneta Hoyt, a mother from a small town in New York State whose five babies died suddenly, of no apparent cause, in the 1960s and ‘70s. They were classified as SIDS deaths, but in the 1990s, a suspicious district attorney reopened the case. Ms. Hoyt confessed to smothering her children. While she later recanted, she was eventually convicted of murdering all five. Cases such as hers led forensic investigators to adopt a more cautious approach, Dr. Cutz said. Therefore, using undetermined in place of SIDS means that “in case these parents may confess down the line,” no one will “be caught with pants down.”.........Dr. Cutz and many other researchers theorize that babies who die suddenly and unexpectedly have underlying heart, brain or other abnormalities that cause them to go to sleep and never wake up. In other words, while they may look, sound and act like healthy, normal babies, they have a condition that puts them at greater risk of sudden unexpected death."