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THE DEATH OF AN ABORIGINAL BABY John Stuart Conjoint Associate Professor The University of Newcastle.

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Presentation on theme: "THE DEATH OF AN ABORIGINAL BABY John Stuart Conjoint Associate Professor The University of Newcastle."— Presentation transcript:

1 THE DEATH OF AN ABORIGINAL BABY John Stuart Conjoint Associate Professor The University of Newcastle

2 An Instructive Case in Indigenous Health  Possible uses for this module include teaching of medical students and other health professionals.  Areas covered Paediatrics Nutrition Medico-legal issues Socio-political issues

3 The Clinical Case  “Ebony” was born on at Cunnamulla weighing 8lbs 2oz  Developed gastroenteritis at 5 weeks, weighed 10lbs  Admitted to hospital for 8 days. No increased weight gain  No tests, no special treatment, no feeding instructions given

4 The Clinical Case  Over the next 2 months fed on Custard and Sunshine milk  Aged 4.5 months started vomiting  Carried to hospital by mother at midnight (2.5km)  Admitted and given glucose water by nurse, weight 7lbs 11oz  Doctor not called, seen 9 hours later

5 Clinical Case  Treatment started “stomach tube and subcutaneous drip”  Developed bronchopneumonia and died after intravenous drip inserted, 2 days after admission weighing 7lbs 5ozs  Post mortem performed  Diagnosis gross malnutrition and neglect  CIB notified

6 The Charge  Mother interviewed by detectives twice  3.5 months later, sibling admitted with gastroenteritis  Mother arrested next day and charged with manslaughter

7 The Trial  in Roma 300 miles away  Crown Case  Evidence from “partner”, no mistreatment  Nurses “baby was pitifully thin, dehydrated, life ebbing”  Doctor stated that condition should have been obvious for several weeks

8 The Trial – defence case  Aunt supported the fact that baby was fed regularly and did not look ill until day before admission  Dr Archie Kalokerinos argued that the baby could have been vitamin C deficient leading to rapid weight loss and death from scurvy and pneumonia  Mother not called to give evidence

9 The Trial Judges instructions  Ignore Aboriginal witnesses  Partner protecting himself  Aunt “too smart”  Because mother did not refute accusations “it is legitimate for you to take this failure into account which makes it less unsafe to infer guilt than it otherwise would have been”

10 The Trial verdict  Guilty of manslaughter

11 Aftermath  This Day Tonight 10 minute report  Sydney University Law School commented Condemned legal aspects of trial High bail figure ($1000) Judicial comments Conflict between medical witnesses not resolved

12 Aftermath  Appeal to Qld supreme court rejected  (evidence from respected Brisbane paediatrician - could be disturbance of body chemistry and treatment in hospital incorrect)  Qld Council for Civil Liberties appealed to High Court and asked for pardon  Four Corners “out of sight out of mind” turning point

13 Four Corners  Highlighted hospital’s failure to provide adequate treatment  Exposed the town’s racism  Exposed the poverty of the reserve  Showed the rough grave  Sale to BBC banned

14 Conclusion  Pardon granted by Qld supreme court before high court judgement.  Conviction quashed on basis of new evidence  Mother released after 10 months of sentence with 1 month to go

15 Legal Issues  Delay in the charge  Impossible bail figure  Failure to resolve highly technical medical dispute  Inference of guilt because of mother’s failure to give evidence  No compensation for wrongful imprisonment

16 Nutritional Issues  Nutritional value of Sunshine milk, custard and farex  Vitamin C availability  Mother’s income $6 per week

17 Nutritional Issues  Nutritional value of Sunshine milk, custard and farex  Vitamin C availability  Mother’s income $6 per week

18 Social Issues  4 adults and ten children living in one room with dirt floor  One tap for the community (less than the cemetry)  No sewerage

19 References  Robertson G, Carrick J “The Trials of Nancy Young” Australian Quarterly :34-46  Kalokerinos A “Every Second Child” Nelson 1974 Chapter 15  “Out of sight out of mind” ABC Four Corners, August 1969

20 Contributions to Baby’s Death  Medical – viral infection, treatment  Living conditions – poverty, nutrition  Dispossession – racist attitudes


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