Vitamin D deficiency provides ‘reasonable doubt’ in child abuse case

New Zealand’s High Court has ruled that a proven vitamin D deficiency serious enough to cause rickets in a baby may have been the real reason for injuries that led child protection agencies to seize the child and initiate child abuse prosecutions.

Justice Panckhurst has this week returned “baby C” to the care and custody of its parents after a two year legal battle that began when the child was eight months old.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has failed to routinely test newborn babies for their vitamin D blood levels, meaning cases of deficiency have usually gone undiagnosed. The symptoms of deficiency are serious, however, and can rapidly lead to brittle bones that are easily fractured even in normal handling and care situations. “These weak bones can fracture (break) easily, even without an obvious injury,” reports the US National Institutes of Health.

An initial Family Court hearing ruled that the baby girl had been abused by her parents, despite what the judge admitted was a lack of any other evidence supporting that finding, and no evidence that the parents had mistreated their daughter other than the unexplained injuries.

The family appealed to the High Court in the wake of a groundbreaking British case where the courts also found supposed child abuse injuries had in fact been caused by a vitamin D deficiency.

Justice Panckhurst, after hearing evidence from vitamin D experts and reviewing the British case, has this week ruled it would be ”unsafe to act on the medical evidence as compelling to the virtual exclusion of a searching examination”.

The credibility of New Zealand’s Ministry of Health has taken a hammering in recent years after revelations that it routintely under-declares the true extent of vitamin D deficiency in the community because it conflicts with its multi-million dollar “stay out of the sun” skin cancer message.