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Manipulation On Cot Death Issues

15 August 2006

Paediatrician's Policy For Handling Media Reveals Manipulation On Cot Death Issues

Dr Jim Sprott is warning media representatives about the media policy of paediatrician Professor Ed Mitchell (University of Auckland) revealed yesterday. In an e-mail sent to the Ministry of Health and prominent members of the New Zealand Paediatrics Society on 14 August 2006 Dr Mitchell stated:

Dr Sprott issues press releases very frequently and these are ignored by the media. From time to time some young reporter thinks they have got a scoop and contacts me with great enthusiasm. My approach is always to talk about [the toxic gas theory for cot death] being a 1989 theory, that it has been fully investigated and dismissed, and that there is nothing new from what Dr Sprott has been saying since 1994. At that stage they drop the story. This approach has been successful in keeping [Dr Sprott] out of the news."

Dr Mitchell's statement demonstrates an appalling policy of deception and media manipulation, stated Dr Sprott.

Dr Mitchell is Chairman of the New Zealand Cot Death Association. Research commissioned by the Cot Death Association in 1997 showed evidence of toxic gas generation from cot mattress material.(1)

The scientist who carried out the research warned the Cot Death Association in December 1997 that gases from all the categories publicised by Dr Sprott as causing cot death had been generated from infant bedding materials.(1)

At a SIDS International conference session chaired by Dr Mitchell in February 2000, an expatriate New Zealand scientist reported proof of generation of toxic gas from infant bedding sheepskin.(2)

The investigation of the toxic gas theory referred to by Dr Mitchell is the 1998 UK Limerick Report. In September 1998 it was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal that the Limerick Report did not disprove the toxic gas theory for cot death. The publisher of that statement had collaborated with Dr Mitchell on cot death research.(3)

"For some time it has been quite apparent that New Zealand media representatives were being manipulated by opponents of the toxic gas theory for cot death," stated Dr Sprott. "Now we know that this has been a cynical and deliberate policy which flies in the face of the Cot Death Association's own research findings. Hopefully now the media will think twice before contacting paediatricians on cot-death-related issues."

Dr Sprott called on Dr Mitchell to resign from his position as Chairman of the New Zealand Cot Death Association. "Quite clearly, Dr Mitchell's position is untenable," stated Dr Sprott.

The cot death prevention method based on the toxic gas theory is mattress-wrapping. Since the commencement of the mattress-wrapping programme in 1995, around 830 New Zealand babies have died on cot death on unwrapped mattresses (or parallel bedding situations), but there has been no reported cot death on a 'wrapped mattress'. The New Zealand cot death rate has fallen by 70% since mattress-wrapping began and the Pakeha rate has fallen by around 85%.(4)

"This issue is especially relevant given the cot deaths of twin baby girls in Porirua last weekend," stated Dr Sprott. "As 11 years of mattress-wrapping have shown, babies don't die of cot death on wrapped mattresses.

It's time for the Cot Death Association, Ministry of Health and Plunket Society to come clean with the New Zealand public and tell them to wrap babies mattresses for cot death prevention."


(1) "The evolution of phosphine from cot mattress materials", Department of Chemistry, University of Auckland (Final Report to New Zealand Cot Death Association, December 1997).

(2) Arsenic methylation by micro-organisms isolated from sheepskin bedding materials, Human & Experimental Toxicology (2003) 22: 325-334.

(3) "SIDS and the toxic gas theory (letter), New Zealand Medical Journal, 25 September 1998, page 371.

(4) Source of statistics: New Zealand Ministry of Health.


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