Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill

Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill

by Margaret G. Spinelli
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

3 Stars from Doody
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781585627547
Publisher:
American Psychiatric Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
08/13/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
296
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Meir Steiner

This is the first book ever to provide a comprehensive and integrative overview of such a delicate topic. The image of a mother killing her own child is to many unthinkable. Dr. Spinelli, who herself has done some seminal work in the field of infanticide, has assembled an excellent cadre of experts to author chapters which cover the broad spectrum of this conundrum from the biopsychosocial to the medicolegal. This book will become the bench mark text for those interested in women's mental health and beyond.

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. (and Susan Hatters-Friedman,)
Jennifer Downey

Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill brings together in one place the newest scholarship -- legal, medical, and psychosocial -- toward an understanding of the psychiatric defense for women who kill their infants. The information about post-partum psychiatric disorders in women is absolutely up-to-date and useful for any clinician who treats women of child-bearing age. The book is a key text for any professional working in the legal, law enforcement, social service, or medical fields who deals with women accused of harming their babies. In addition, the book addresses head-on the shocking inequities in the legal system in the United States for women accused of child murder. Dr. Spinelli and her contributors make a powerful argument for reform based on human rights. A courageous and masterful book.

From the Introduction

Whether the cause of maternal infanticide is postpartum psychiatric illness, dissociative disorder and denial of pregnancy, substance abuse, child neglect, or child abuse, women at risk of committing infanticide are presenting to us in antepartum, postpartum, and well-baby clinics, hospitals, and other settings. Absent research-based information on the temporal relationship between childbirth and infanticide, and a clinical framework for understanding the diagnosis and phenomenology that underlie infanticide, we are, in all likelihood, missing the signs of potential tragedy. I offer this book as a springboard and inspiration for research aimed at classifying infanticide according to the biopsychosocial model of psychiatry and contemporary diagnostic criteria. Therein lies the hope of prevention and the promise of saved lives.

Orli Etingin

Dr. Spinelli has composed a scholarly piece on a difficult subject. It brings together scientific and biopsychosocial data in a clear and informative way. This will be a seminal addition to the libraries of all professionals who care for women through all stages of their lives.

Jean Endicott

This book is very timely and addresses an important, and little understood, subject. The authors, all of whom are clearly very well informed and very thoughtful about the events that are the focus of the book, write about a wide variety of relevant issues in a systematic, scholarly, informative, and readable manner. This book should appeal to, and be read by, members of many different professional groups who are likely to come in contact with mothers either before or after they have thought about or committed infanticide. One can only hope that better awareness of the issues will lead to actions and decisions on the behalf of the women and their children that will be more helpful to them than has often been the case in the past.

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.

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