View Full Version : Manchausen by Proxy: good defense?

2nd February 2004, 09:26 AM
It seems anti-vaccination folks don't like the people who crowned or support the idea of Manchausen syndrome by proxy. The anti-vax are saying that vaccines cause damage to babies; so assertion of Manchausen is a blow against them.


Only, the idea of Manchausen is being challenged. Is this a good defense against the anti-vax after all?

2nd February 2004, 09:31 AM
No it is not a good defense. In this case I think the best aproach is to work on a case by case basis.

2nd February 2004, 09:51 AM
(Pssst... it's Munchausen, actually.)

Just because some people were wrongly convicted of smothering their babies, doesn't mean nobody has ever smothered a baby, or that everyone in prison for smothering a baby is innocent.

This has led on to the Munchausen-by-proxy area because it was the same person whose over-confident (and wrong) evidence led to the erroneous convictions for baby smothering, who invented the condition of Munchausen-by-proxy.

It's supposed to be a psychiatric disorder where an attention-seeking adult deliberately harms an infant or other helples dependant in order to revel in the fuss and attention that will result when the victim's (apparently natural) medical condition comes to light.

It does seem odd to me that this condition was described and named, not by a psychiatrist, but by a paediatrician. And I'm seeing plausible evidence to suggest that it may have been seriously over-diagnosed. Some people are talking about a scandal of the same order as the Cleveland child abuse affair just waiting to come out, this time involving innocent parents wrongly accused of deliberately harming their children for psychological reasons.

But just because there may be some people who have been wrongly suspected and convicted of deliberately harming their children doesn't mean that everyone who has been convicted of harming a child is innocent.

It appears that the text-book case of MbP, Beverley Allitt, may be going to appeal on the strength of this story. However, I've heard some details about the evidence against her from pretty close to the horse's mouth, and I really don't see what grounds she has for appeal. Somebody gave these babies huge doses of insulin, and the evidence pointed to that somebody being her. And her motive appeared to be that she liked being at the centre of the big resuscitation fuss, and all that came after it.

Just, do you label this a psychiatric illness, or just plain badness?

So far as the anti-vax lot are concerned, I'm not sure how they are trying to play it. If MbP exists, they won't get too far saying sure, I shook my baby, but it was all to fuel a deep need I had to be the centre of attention. Beverley Allitt may be diagnosed MbP, but she's still in jail. If it doesn't exist, so what? People still harm their children, for all sorts of reasons.

Geni is right, you have to look at each case on its facts. Is there genuine evidence that the parent or carer harmed the child? If so, why? MbP is just another motive, given a fancy psychiatric label. Roy Meadow is now being recognised as someone who was far to ready to assume that parents harm their children on a regular basis, and who put a number of innocent people behind bars (and separated others from their children) on flimsy to non-existent evidence.

But that doesn't mean that nobody has ever harmed a child. Think Victoria Climbié. And it certainly doesn't provide any random child-abuser with a get out of jail free card.


2nd February 2004, 01:28 PM
Remember Rolfe, there are those anti-vax folks who don't believe shaking or dropping will harm your baby.

If Munchausen can be proven, it's a blow against anti-vax for those who hurt their kids to get attention. But for those who deny Munchausen exists, they are left believing (all over again) it's the vaccines.

2nd February 2004, 01:42 PM
It still seems a bit tenuous to me. The people who really might go in for MbP aren't so likely to do anything so crude as shaking. Beverley Allitt injected insulin. There was a recent case (a bit doubtful I think, but there was a conviction) where the mother injected high doses of salt into a child's plumbed-in feeding system.

Whether or not there is a psychiatric disorder where people harm children to get attention doesn't seem to have much bearing on whether or not it is possible to harm a child. If someone wants to do that, they will find a way.

If the psychiatric disorder exists, then the people who do the harming may get that diagnosis. They will still go to jail. The worry is that it is being said that the disorder is hereditary and relatives of people so diagnosed are having suspicion cast on them even if their child has never so much as had a skinned knee.

If the psychiatric disorder doesn't exist then the people who do the harming will go to jail. There may be less danger of other people being included in guilt by heredity.

I'm still struggling with the shaken baby/anti-vax thing. Are they saying that if there is no specific psychiatric disorder that impels carers to harm children to gain attention, that proves that shaking can't hurt a baby? Huh? :confused:


2nd February 2004, 02:01 PM
Originally posted by Rolfe

I'm still struggling with the shaken baby/anti-vax thing. Are they saying that if there is no specific psychiatric disorder that impels carers to harm children to gain attention, that proves that shaking can't hurt a baby? Huh? :confused:


Well Rolfe, best I can understand, anti-vax is saying shaking a baby can't harm it. Every. Or dropping it. No matter the diagnosis. If Munchausen by proxy can be proven, that is an open admission that such things as shaking CAN harm a baby, which is against the antivax belief/credo.

2nd February 2004, 03:22 PM
Originally posted by Suezoled
If Munchausen by proxy can be proven, that is an open admission that such things as shaking CAN harm a baby, which is against the antivax belief/credo. It's awfully tenuous. But then, I suppose, who expects these guys to make sense?

Is there any case at all of alleged MbP where shaking was the supposed method of harm? The ones I've heard about have been insulin, other drugs that babies aren't meant to have, salt and partial smothering. They're not saying that smothering can't harm a baby, are they?

More interestingly, I did hear a paediatrician say on TV here that he was now having doubts about the specific diagnosis of "shaken baby syndrome". I think what he meant was that he wondered whether the chain of assumptions in looking at certain abnormalities and attributing them to shaking, might be questionable.

Much as I dislike it, it may be necessary to shake some lambs or something and look at the damage post-mortem before this one can be settled.

But weren't there broken bones in one of the cases you mention? Surely nobody is saying that babies are indestructible?


2nd February 2004, 07:21 PM
Broken ribs and partially healed ribs in the case of Alan Yurko's child's death.


The Issue of the Rib Fractures: At autopsy four rib fractures were
>found, all on the posterior left. All witnesses agreed that these
>fractures were at least l0 to l4 days old, as indicated by the degree
>of callus formation. However, the state witnesses pointed out that
>there was a difference in the sizes of the calluses, which (they
>suggested) indicated that the rib fractures had occurred at
>different times, thus indicating a pattern of child abuse.

>It was the suggestion of the defense witness that the rib fractures
>took place during labor, prior to birth.


But Yurko's case is not Munchausen. "Just" a case of beating a baby to death.

From what I can tell, the Anti-vax, if it looks like someone DID murder their child, will disappear. It doesn't help their anti-vax campaign if it can be proven that mommy put her kids under a cushion after all. So, they disappear.

Other cases assumed to be Munchausen by proxy, smothering: (not very good cases, I'll admit. A bit older, and from the same source):

Boy's mother is caught forcing his heart rate to slow.

Girl's father tries to hurt her.

Assumption of anti-vax blaming shaken baby syndrome on Vaccines:

I'm trying to see how this all comes together and I'm missing pieces.... dang it.