Update: India’s “Human Torch” Baby

August 26, 2013

To recap: News reports (e.g., Times of India, August 13, 2013) told of an infant from rural India who had suffered four instances of what some believed was “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC—a phenomenon not accepted by science, although believed by a few crank scientists).

Urged by a Facebook fan from India to become involved, and interviewed by Dustin Seibert of msn.com (his blog posted August 14), I responded. I gave the opinion (based on reports of the actual circumstances) that SHC was not the cause and that the baby boy needed to be placed in protective custody. I elaborated in my own blog of August 15.

Subsequently, reported Express News Service (see The New Indian Express, August 23), the dean of the facility where the three-month-old boy was being treated—Dr. P. Ramakrishnan of Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital—issued an update about the case.

Dean Ramakrishnan stated that the little boy was expected to be released. However, he stressed that the hospital’s findings ruled out so-called SHC. Over thirty different medical tests were conducted, and these revealed not a single indication of the alleged phenomenon. (As I had suggested, if the child was in protective custody, as was indeed effectively maintained in the hospital, the fiery outbursts would cease, and they did.)

On the other hand, the dean informed that he had petitioned the police, lodging a formal complaint requesting that they conduct an investigation into the case and take whatever steps are necessary to protect the baby from future attacks. He said he sent a similar petition to the Child Welfare Committee. The Dean had agreed with the possibility that the child had been abused, citing inconsistencies in statements of the parents and maternal grandmother. (I had suggested such possible motivations as postpartum depression and Munchausen syndrome by proxy, among others.)

It remains to be seen what develops in the case, but I want to extend to Dean Ramakrishnan my praise for his enlightened view, his thoroughly scientific approach, and his courage and initiative in petitioning both the police and child welfare authorities.