Inquest: brit not to blame in baby death

By Robyn Rosen, September 10, 2009
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The baby who died shortly after his brit, died of natural causes totally unrelated to his circumcision, a coroner has ruled.

Amitai Moshe was circumcised by Rabbi Moshe Perry on February 1 2007 in Golders Green Synagogue, north-west London, but about 35 minutes after the ceremony, while his mother was breastfeeding him, he began to turn blue and blood was seen around his mouth and nose. Two medically trained guests and the mohel attempted to resuscitate him.

Both Hatzola, the strictly-Orthodox ambulance service, and the London Ambulance Service, were called. Hatzola arrived first, taking the baby to the Royal Free Hospital. He was transferred to University College London, and pronounced dead on February 9.

Coroner Andrew Walker, told Hornsey Coroners’ Court on Wednesday that the cause of death was sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), following evidence from leading infant health expert, Professor Peter Fleming.

Mr Walker said: “Any connection with Amitai’s tragic death and the circumcision itself can be ruled out and it is accepted that the circumcision was skilfully and deftly undertaken.

“There can be no suggestion that the rabbi was in any way at fault or to blame for this tragedy.”

During the three-day inquest, the court heard from Amitai’s parents, Ran and Yotvat, who described the tragic moments before Amitai’s death.

His mother, Yotvat, said that it was only after the ceremony, when she began to breastfeed Amitai, that she noticed something was wrong.

“He was uncomfortable and moving around,” she said. “He was crying and I stopped. Then he relaxed and was having milk normally. He stopped and I thought he fell asleep. Then I saw blood on my shirt. I thought it was mine but I saw blood from his nose. His colour was yellow.”

Professor Fleming told the court that Amitai’s death met the universal definition of SIDS. He was aware of two similar cases where babies died moments after their baptisms while their mothers were breastfeeding.

He said: “I can’t think of any mechanism by which the circumcision should have been responsible.”

The court also heard about the assistance provided by the Hatzola ambulance crew, who arrived minutes after the emergency call.

The baby’s father, Ran Moshe, questioned their techniques and equipment but the coroner praised the service and told the crew: “Not for one moment should you begin to blame yourself for what happened that day.”

David Segal, a trustee at Hatzola, told the court that since the incident, training, practices and equipment had been reviewed and all ambulances now carry the correctly-sized neonate apparatus.

Mr Walker also advised Hatzola to contact the London Ambulance Service to form a fast-track system to ascertain the nearest paramedic crew, to liaise with Professor Fleming about better procedure for infants and to inform Amitai’s parents of the changes.

The landmark ruling will come as a disappointment to those who oppose circumcision, some of whom were present during the inquest.

Dr John Warren, chairman of NORM UK, which opposes circumcision, attended the inquest.

He said afterwards: “I’m disappointed that we didn’t have a more thorough inquiry into the physiological effects of circumcision.

“I don’t think you can rule out that there might be a connection between the circumcision and the sudden death.”

Jonathan Goldberg QC, who represented the Initiation Society, which registers and trains mohelim, said: “This verdict puts paid to those ill-intentioned people who would have tried to use this tragedy to attack Jewish circumcision.”

Who are Hatzola?

● Hatzola is a voluntary organisation which offers emergency medical aid.
● It was set up 30 years ago and has sister organisations nationally and internationally. The north-west branch operates in Golders Green and Hendon and the fringes of Hampstead and Finchley.
● Hatzola NW has three ambulances and 45 volunteers who are trained in first aid.
● It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year, including Shabbat and Yomtov.
● In Amitai Moshe’s case, Hatzola arrived at the synagogue minutes after the emergency call was made at 8.44am and arrived at the Royal Free Hospital at 8.52am.

Last updated: 11:55am, September 11 2009