Vanderbilt Law Review

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On a December night in 1993, Gregory Bryant-Bruce, age six months, was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center Emergency Room for treatment of severe anemia, shock, and abnormally low hematocrit.' A CT scan revealed brain hemorrhaging, and a physical examination showed retinal hemorrhages of varying ages. Retinal bleeding in a young child is almost always caused by traumatic injury, and is considered to be a classic sign of "Shaken Impact Syndrome" ("SIS"), a life-threatening and relatively common form of child abuse. Thus, on the basis of Gregory's symptoms and the in- adequacy of his parents' explanation of his injuries, Gregory's doctor suspected child abuse. Gregory's attending physician, a pediatric intensivist, consulted at least five of his colleagues, all of whom agreed that the medical findings "created a high suspicion of abuse." Ultimately, one of the colleagues, a pediatrician, made a diagnosis of SIS and filed a report of suspected child abuse with the local Child Protective Services ("CPS").

The physician was not merely doing what he perceived to be the right thing under the circumstances, nor was he unnecessarily harassing Gregory's parents. Rather, he was complying with his statutory duty to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities. Under the Tennessee statute,

"(Any person, including, but not limited to, any... [pihysician .... having knowledge of or called upon to render aid to any child who is suffering from or has sustained any wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition which is of such a nature as to reasonably indicate that it has been caused by brutality, abuse or neglect or which on the basis of available information reasonably appears to have been caused by brutality, abuse or neglect, shall report such harm immediately ... to the judge having juvenile jurisdiction or to the county office of the [D]epartment [of Children's Services.])