(NEW YORK) — A 3-month-old baby, who has serious burns and was suspected of suffering from spontaneous human combustion, was released from an Indian hospital on Friday, according to the Indian newspaper The Hindu.
The infant, named Rahul, is expected to remain in the city of Chennai under the protection of child rights activists until the cause of his mysterious burns are uncovered, according to the Times of India.
Rahul’s parents told the authorities that the infant spontaneously caught on fire at least four different times even after they had taken him to local medical centers.
Rahul’s doctors at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital spoke to the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) on Thursday.
“Nobody has been able to pinpoint the reason why Rahul suffered burn injuries. Our aim is to protect the child until a conclusion is reached,” ICCW general secretary Chandradevi Thanikachalam told the Times of India. “We’ll keep Rahul and his mother Rajeshwari in a place where he will also get additional protection, but only after his parents’ approval.”
Doctors treating the infant did tests to see if there was any indication that the child could spontaneously catch on fire. According to the Times of India, the tests showed no abnormalities and the doctors were also investigating child abuse or the possibility that the infant was burned accidentally.
The boy’s mother, Rajeshwari Karnan, said nine days after his birth she found the baby on fire in her hut after he was left alone momentarily.
“There was a flame on his belly and his right knee, and my husband rushed with a towel to put it off,” Karnan told the New York Times. “I got very scared.”
After that first incident, the parents said their child caught fire three other times.
Eventually the parents traveled to the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital for more extensive treatment. Doctors there investigated the possibility that the infant, named Rahul, has suffered from spontaneous human combustion. They have also examined the child for a host of other medical conditions, as well as possible child abuse.
The local media has put forward other theories about the cause for Rahul’s burns. The Indian newspaper, The Hindu, pointed out that the village where the infant’s mother is from had mysterious fires that burned down multiple homes in 2004.
Those fires were later found to have been caused by phosphorous cow dung that was used in building materials and had a very low ignition point.
Spontaneous human combustion remains a controversial theory as a plausible cause of death.
Experts have puzzled over the cases in which a person is found reduced to ash in their home, with the rest of the structure relatively unscathed by fire. Everything from static electricity to an errant cigarette have been theorized to cause a person to suddenly burst into flame.
One theory is that the mysterious deaths attributed to spontaneous human combustion are actually the result of the “wick effect.” The wick-effect theory posits that a person’s clothes act as a “wick” and that body fat can act as a long-burning fuel source that would eventually reduce a body to ash.
However, the “wick effect” does not account for an ignition source or accelerant.
Though many scientists remain unconvinced about the plausibility of spontaneous human combustion, the theory has gained traction in recent years. In 2011, spontaneous human combustion was declared the official cause of death for an Irish man in a controversial decision by the local courts.
“This fire was thoroughly investigated and I’m left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation,” West Galway coroner Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin told a court in September 2011.
Other scientists are still trying to discover a plausible scientific explanation for suspected cases of spontaneous human combustion.
In a 2012 article published in the New Scientist, Brian J. Ford, a research biologist, theorized that higher levels of acetone in the body could actually account for instances of spontaneous human combustion.
Ford experimented with meat soaked in acetone and found that after the material burned, it resulted in a pile of ash similar to those found in cases of suspected spontaneous human combustion.
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