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Hidden Cameras in Hospitals Can Uncover Child Abuse

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"In 13 of those cases, we felt that we could not have made the diagnosis without the monitoring," says study author David Hall, MD, a pediatrician with Children's Healthcare in Atlanta who specializes in inpatient care. "So we think that this is an essential tool to have in the diagnosis of MSBP."

Some argue that covert surveillance is unethical because it interferes with the family's privacy. But Hall points out that everyone gives up privacy when they enter a hospital, and that it is the child who is the patient, not the family. There's also a big difference in monitoring an adult without permission and monitoring a child, he says.

"A child can't speak up for himself," he says. "And someone has to be an advocate for the child. No one can ask that child if its okay to videotape your parents making you sick."

Feldman agrees. "There's been a question as to whether parents have a reasonable right to anticipate privacy in a hospital room, and the answer -- both legally and ethically -- is no."

He also points out that people don't question monitoring devices in stores and other facilities. "You can go into a department store and the cameras are everywhere -- you are being surveyed continuously to make sure you don't engage in a criminal act," he says.

Because of the hidden cameras, four mothers who had been suspected of Munchausen syndrome by proxy were exonerated, as no suspicious or abusive behavior was noted. This shows that hidden surveillance can work both ways, Hall says.

"We believe strongly that [the surveillance] is ethical and the right thing to do in selected cases," Hall says. "Not only does it protect children, but it can also protect parents who are innocent."

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