A rare case of Munchausen By Proxy does not mean the syndrome is increasing

Last month, we posted the shocking story of a mother who apparently poisoned her own child in order to gain sympathy and attention. She now faces court. The case will likely be studied by psychologists to gain more insight into Munchausen By Proxy syndrome.

Experts: Lacey Spears Case May Shed Light On Munchausen By Proxy « CBS New York.

Lacey Spears, 26, of Scottsville, Kentucky, pleaded not guilty last month to charges of depraved murder and manslaughter in Westchester County in the January death of her son, Garnett-Paul Spears, whose sodium levels rose to an extremely dangerous level with no medical explanation.

As Spears moved around the country — Alabama, Florida and eventually New York State — she kept friends updated on her son’s frequent hospitalizations with photos and musings on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and a blog.

While prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Spears case have yet to mention Munchausen in court papers or hearings, experts say the disorder could play a role because Spears fits the pattern of caregivers who invent, exaggerate or cause a health problem in someone in their care and then seek to portray themselves as a hero.

Spears is accused of secretly administering the fatal doses of sodium through a feeding tube he had in his stomach while hospitalized. Prosecutors say she did it in the bathroom, where there were no surveillance cameras.

The headline suggests experts have chimed in on this particular case and that the internet plays some meaningful causal role in the Spears case. The article says one expert, Dr Feldman, “believes the Internet has contributed to the number of Munchausen by proxy cases, estimated from one study to be more than 600 a year in the U.S.” That phrasing – which is the author’s invention – insinuates that the internet is CAUSING more cases of Munchausen by Proxy. However, this has not been demonstrated in any study. The quotes by the experts in this article do not necessarily support the assertion that “Internet has contributed to the
number of Munchausen by proxy cases”. These quoted experts have not examined Spears or connected her case to a larger trend.

This article also cites a case in 2011 in Great Britain where a childless 21-year-old woman joined an Internet forum for parents, claiming to have five children, one with celiac disease and bacterial meningitis. That’s not Munchausens by Proxy – there was no real child – it’s just lying! Though there have been countless cases of people writing about their ill children who did not really exist receiving support and sympathy, that’s not Munchausen by Proxy. It’s just fiction.

This case is far more severe due to the actual death of the child.

While this case is abhorrent, it’s important not to project the problem beyond its scope or suggest the internet is to blame.

Tipster Weltschmertzy greatly contributed to this article.

  5 comments for “A rare case of Munchausen By Proxy does not mean the syndrome is increasing

  1. Harold Renshaw
    July 22, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    There may be cases where the Munchausen defense gets someone off, but I have heard of several where the defense is used and the defendant is still held guilty.

    There is something weird about this “disease.” First, it seems to infect only women and second, it seems to spread through media not through any known pathogen. Maybe the cause is in the culture and religious atmosphere surrounding the mothers who become infected. I don’t think the source of the problem is women; I think it is in the culture.

    • rhapakatui
      July 23, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      It’s a syndrome, not a “disease.” Last time I checked, very few personality or psychological disorders are transmitted by pathogens. I understand that this is a forum for “skeptics”, but doubting that psychology is real seems a bit of an overshot. Then again, I had a neighbor as a kid who didn’t believe in the rain cycle.

    • rhapakatui
      July 23, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      I’m no psychological professional, but I don’t believe that Munchausen’s is a “disease” with which one can be “infected.” It’s more like a rare addiction. While I agree that it’s unlikely that it would be a good defense in court, it is a documented syndrome.

  2. smh
    July 24, 2014 at 2:28 AM

    Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP or MBP) is a term that is used to describe a behaviour pattern in which a caregiver deliberately exaggerates, fabricates, and/or induces physical, psychological, behavioural, and/or mental health problems in those who are in their care.[1] With deception at its core, this behaviour is an elusive, potentially lethal, and frequently misunderstood form of child abuse[2] or medical neglect[3] that has been difficult to define, detect, and confirm.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchausen_syndrome_by_proxy

    You would NEVER use it as a legal defense. Defense lawyers for such people try like the dickens to not have it mentioned in court. Insanity defenses have to prove that the defendant had no idea what they doing – don’t know right from wrong. MBPs act deliberately and with enormous amounts of premeditation.

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