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Sometimes, malice is likelier than natural causes

Rahul, a child in India, is covered with horrible burns (caution: large color picture of scarred baby at the top of the article.)

The infant was admitted to the hospital on Thur­sday with burn injuries. The baby had had four such episodes with the first one barely nine days after his birth and another more re­cent one three weeks ago.

“An episode may or may not recur. It’s like any other burn injury, with the likelihood of scars and secondary infections. Plastic surgery is also expected to be done. The relatives or parents have to always keep an eye on the baby. Matchsticks, crackers or anything that can catch fire should not be kept near him,” Dr Babu added.

A bucket of water and fire extinguisher have always to be kept ready near the baby’s bed.

Huh? He’s in the hospital. Why are they worried about more burns rather than treating the ones he’s got?

Because they are blaming the child’s injuries on Spontaneous Human Combustion. Recurring spontaneous human combustion, no less — the kid is claimed to just burst into flames with no discernible cause.

The paediatric intensive care unit at Kilpauk Medi­cal College and Hospital on Friday received a number of curious visitors wanting a glimpse of three-month-old baby Rahul who suffers from Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).

Only 200 cases have been seen such in the world over the past 300 years, the last reported case being in the United States in 2010.

“The body burns spontaneously due to combustible gases emitting from the patient’s body, without any external source of ignition,” said Dr R. Narayana Babu, head of the paediatrics department, Kilpauk Medi­cal College. “Clothes and other things nearby that are inflammable may also catch fire.”

I have a suggestion. The bucket of water and fire extinguisher are silly. Instead, I recommend a hidden video camera…especially one that is carefully monitored whenever the parents come to visit.

Comments

  1. says

    Only 200 cases have been seen such in the world over the past 300 years, the last reported case being in the United States in 2010.

    Holy shit! My bullshit detector’s reading a solid ’9′ – does that mean I’m in any possible danger from the radiation?

  2. Ant (@antallan) says

    I don’t know whether I’m angrier at the cruelty of the parents or at the wilful ignorance of the medical authorities that enables them.

    /@

  3. madscientist says

    I wonder if the parents were casting out demons by setting the kid on fire? When I was young I’ve seen many children badly burnt (most died) because the goddamned witch doctor told the parents that the kid is possessed and must be cleansed with boiling water. As far as I know the witch doctors never received the treatment they deserved.

  4. Christopher Denney says

    I wonder how many cases of Münchausen syndrome by proxy they got in the last 300 years. Probably at least 200.

  5. machintelligence says

    It does sound like Münchausen syndrome by proxy, but as PZ noted, there are ways to control for that. I would bet that none of the episodes of “combustion” have occurred in the hospital or been observed by health care professionals.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    It’s disturbing that neither the reporter nor the head of paediatrics expressed any doubt about SHC.

  7. evodevo says

    India, I am sorry to say, has a LOOONNNG way to go to get to the 20th century, never mind the 21st. That this level of pseudoscientific quack mindset is present even at a MEDICAL COLLEGE is appalling. I have no doubt that the family is involved in this up to their eyeballs, and it is sickening that not only no charges will be brought, but that it probably won’t even be investigated in the slightest.

  8. butterflyfish says

    So if the last case of spontaneous human combustion was supposedly in the US in 2010, are they saying that is an accepted diagnosis and/or an accepted cause of death here?

  9. says

    So if the last case of spontaneous human combustion was supposedly in the US in 2010, are they saying that is an accepted diagnosis and/or an accepted cause of death here?

    Seems to be one in Ireland:

    In 2011 an Irish coroner ruled that 76-year old Michael Faherty died at his home in Ballybane, Galway on 22 December 2010 as a result of spontaneous combustion. The man had been found in the sitting room lying on his back with his head closest to an open fireplace. The fire had been confined to the sitting room and the only damage was to the body, which was totally burnt, the ceiling above him and the floor underneath. Forensic investigators found no traces of an accelerant or indications of foul play.

  10. sillose says

    as well as the camera, and assuming its actually a real thing: have they ever, you know, collected some of these gasses? or figured out the source of ignition? did they try? if not, what the fuck is wrong with these… people?

  11. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Whaaaat. The. Fuck.

    And crackers. Fucking crackers should come with a warning label, same as a can of acetone.

    I was screaming inside by the end of the first quoted paragraph. From there on, I just kept trying to scream louder.

  12. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Oh, wait. This may be some other idiomatic use of crackers. Well, there is that.

  13. DLC says

    Gods damn it. all 150 million hindu gods damn it. remove the baby from the parents custody, put the baby in ICU under continuous watch, and let the burns heal. I bet you my retirement fund that there will be no further episodes of “spontaneous combustion” while a camera is pointed at the baby.
    This shit makes me sick and angry both. sicangry ? oh, something.

  14. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Well, I suppose it could be SHC… but I’d like them to make a concerted effort to discount more reasonable explanations before coming to that conclusion. As such, seconding the call for the hidden camera. Also, the couple apparently also has a two year old daughter. Check her over for signs of abuse too. When you hear hooves and all that…

  15. gussnarp says

    I’m assuming that “crackers” here refers to some kind of mild party firework…Otherwise, don’t eat the crackers in India!

  16. David Marjanović says

    When I was young I’ve seen many children badly burnt (most died) because the goddamned witch doctor told the parents that the kid is possessed and must be cleansed with boiling water

    HULK SMASH

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    Christmas cracker

    Christmas crackers, bon-bons, are part of Christmas celebrations primarily in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper,[1] making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly.[1] The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically-impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).[1] One chemical used for the friction strip is silver fulminate,[2] which is highly unstable.

  18. anchor says

    On the title:

    “Sometimes, malice is likelier than natural causes

    And malice is always likelier than ‘supernatural causes’.

    Yet another dark mark on the human ledger. Some traditions really do need to be eradicated from the Earth. Superstitious thinking is never acceptable.