Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill

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Maternal infanticide, or the murder of a child in its first year of life by its mother, elicits sorrow, anger, horror, and outrage. But the perpetrator is often a victim, too.

The editor of this revealing work asks us to reach beyond rage, stretch the limits of compassion, and enter the minds of mothers who kill their babies -- with the hope that advancing the knowledge base and stimulating inquiry in this neglected area of maternal-infant research will save young lives. Written to help remedy today's dearth of up-to-date, research-based literature, this unique volume brings together a multidisciplinary group of 17 experts -- scholars, clinicians, researchers, clinical and forensic psychiatrists, pediatric psychoanalysts, attorneys, and an epidemiologist -- who focus on the psychiatric perspective of this tragic cause of infant death.

This comprehensive, practical work is organized into four parts for easy reference: • Part I presents historical and epidemiological data, including a compelling discussion of the contrasting legal views of infanticide in the United States, United Kingdom, and other Western countries, a review of the latest statistics on maternal infanticide, and a discussion of the problems of underreporting and the lack of available documentation. • Part II covers the psychiatric, psychological, cultural, and biological underpinnings of infanticide, detailing how to identify, evaluate, and treat postpartum psychiatric disorders. The authors explore clinical diagnosis, symptom recognition, risk factors, biological precipitants, and alternative motives, such as cultural infanticide. Chapter 3, developed to assist the attorney or mental health professional in understanding the implications of postpartum psychiatric illness as they relate to infanticide, presents a sensitive and thorough inquiry into infanticidal ideation.• Part III focuses on contemporary legislation, criminal defenses, and disparate treatment in U.S. law and compares U.S. law with the U.K.'s model of probation and treatment. Chapter 8 is an especially useful resource for the attorney or expert psychiatric witness preparing for an infanticide/neonaticide case in the criminal court system.• Part IV discusses clinical experience with mothers as perpetrators and countertransference in therapy, the range of mother-infant interactions (from healthy to pathological), and methods of early intervention and prevention.

This balanced perspective on a highly emotional issue will find a wide audience among psychiatric and medical professionals (child, clinical, and forensic psychiatrists and psychologists; social workers; obstetricians/gynecologists and midwives; nurses; and pediatricians), legal professionals (judges, attorneys, law students), public health professionals, and interested laypersons.

American Psychiatric Publishing

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Steven T. Herron, MD (Assurance Health and Wellness)
Description: This concise and easy-to-read book reports on recent research results and provides a brief review of prior studies on neonaticide and infanticide. Authors from fields such as medicine, psychology, and law pen 11 of the 13 chapters.
Purpose: Two major purposes for this book are described: to provide suggestions to other investigators for future research and to assist "mental health and law practitioners" participating in cases with "women accused of infanticide."
Audience: The primary audience for this book are mental health professionals (primarily forensic practitioners both in the evaluation and treatment of this specific population, as well as those involved in research of forensic populations) and attorneys defending women accused of these crimes.
Features: This book includes 11 chapters individually written by various professionals involved with research, treatment, evaluation, and defense of women accused of neonaticide or infanticide. A chapter about a separate British law for women committing these offenses provides a global view on differing approaches to the problem. There is also a discussion on the history of infanticide and neonaticide in the first chapter. In addition, an anonymous therapist discusses the struggle to overcome the stereotypes and countertransference involved in treating these patients in chapter. Each chapter has an extensive list of references at its conclusion.
Assessment: Overall, this interesting and well-organized book provides an updated review of the limited literature on the topic of infanticide and neonaticide. The newer studies provide additional insight into the characteristics associated with these offenders and, in general, attempts to address previously unanswered questions about these women to provide a more comprehensive risk assessment picture. Yet, one of the drawbacks of this work is the apparent bias of many of the chapters' authors. Although the introduction of the book relates a bias on the part of the editor, numerous chapters attempt to explain all incidents of this disturbing crime as related to psychiatric illness and chemical disturbance. Even given that women with psychiatric disorders commit many, if not most, of these offenses, it is unfair to those with legitimate mental illness to combine women who commit these crimes for other reasons in the same category. As with most cases involving the interpretation of behavior following events, each case should be reviewed and examined on its own facts for the determination of guilt or innocence. Most readers, like the authors and editor, would agree that punishing legitimately psychiatrically ill offenders serves no real purpose, especially those committing the tragic acts described in these pages. However, many would also argue that blindly excusing criminal behavior before exploring the facts specific to each individual case is unjust and unacceptable.
Anil Aggrawal's Internet Journal of Book Reviews

This excellent work should be a valuable tool for psychiatric and medical professionals, legal professionals, public health professionals, and interested laypersons.I would highly recommend it to all. As for me, I am going to keep this book with me, because as a forensic pathologist, I have to deal with infanticide cases almost on a daily basis, and now I know where to fall back upon, when I am stuck.

Phillip J. Resnick

We do recommend this book to clinicians treating women of childbearing age and to attorneys seeking to increase their knowledge about perinatal mental illnesses.

From The Critics
There is a dearth of references for the legal and medical professions on the subject of mothers who kill, according to Spinelli (psychiatry, Columbia U. College of Physicians and Surgeons, among other affiliations), and even less on fathers who kill; she hopes that closer attention to the subject will help save lives. Thirteen contributions from psychiatrists, psychologists, and lawyers discuss the epidemiology of infanticide and historical legal statutes, biopsychosocial and cultural perspectives (postpartum disorders; denial of pregnancy; culture, scarcity, and maternal thinking); contemporary legislation; and treatment and prevention. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585620975
  • Publisher: American Psychiatric Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret G. Spinelli, M.D., is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Director of the Maternal Mental Health Program at New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York, New York.

American Psychiatric Publishing

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Table of Contents

Part I: Epidemiology and Historical Legal Statutes. A brief history of infanticide and the law. Epidemiology of infanticide. Part II: Biopsychosocial and Cultural Perspectives on Infanticide. Postpartum disorders: phenomenology, treatment approaches, and relationship to infanticide. Neurohormonal aspects of postpartum depression and psychosis. Denial of pregnancy. Neonaticide: a systematic investigation of 17 cases. Culture, scarcity, and maternal thinking. Part III: Contemporary Legislation. Criminal defense in cases of infanticide and neonaticide. Postpartum psychiatric disorders: medical and legal dilemmas. Infanticide in Britain. Part IV: Treatment and Prevention. How could anyone do that? A therapist's struggle with countertransference. The mother-infant relationship: from normality to pathology. The promise of saved lives: recognition, prevention, and rehabilitation. Index.

American Psychiatric Publishing

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