Twolawmakers in Texas have proposed a bill under which postpartum mental illness would be recognized as a legal defense for women. According to the Dallas Morning News, which broke the story this weekend:
"If lawmakers approve the measure, Texas would be the first state to have an infanticide law, said George Parnham, the Houston attorney who defended [Andrea] Yates.
'It's something every civilized country has on its books,' said Parnham, a strong proponent of the legislation. 'The only thing that will change public attitude is education about postpartum issues.'
The bill, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, applies to women who commit the crime within 12 months of giving birth. If jurors find a defendant guilty of murder, they can take testimony about postpartum issues into consideration during the trial's punishment phase.
If jurors believe that the woman's judgment was impaired as a result of childbirth or lactation, they can find her guilty of infanticide – a state jail felony that would carry a maximum punishment of two years in jail …
Postpartum depression is recognized as a legal defense in at least 29 nations, including Britain, [as well as Australia and Canada] which has had an infanticide law on the books since 1922."
Of course, there are a lot of people on the internet and talk radio in Texas who are pretty upset about this bill, many concerned that it would give women carte blanche to go around committing infanticide and not having to take responsibility for their actions. They don't care one whit that most Western countries around the world already havesuch laws.
I can see their point. It's a difficultconcept to graspthat some who commit violent crimes may not be responsible, while others are surely responsible. How do you decide who is and who isn't? And then there's this:"Isn't anyone who would kill their child crazy? Does this mean they'll all get away with it now?" Before I had the unpleasurable opportunity of losing my mind for a brief period, I would have agreed with all of them wholeheartedly, so I understand their perspective. At the same time, I'm not a fan of some of the more ignorant and even downright mean statements being made — if you scroll down to the comments on the Dallas Morning News piece, you'll read somepretty uneducated, unbalancedstuff.
As I'vewritten previously, it is very difficult for people who haven't "lost their minds" to understand howanyone could. We can choose to pretend it doesn't happen, and watch as more crimes are committed that could have been prevented. Or we could try to create better programs to help these people, and when we don't help them, we could take a little responsibility on ourselves.
Fortunately, you can find reasoned discussions of the infanticide bill if you look, like here at Grits for Breakfast, and explanations of whyit might make sense, like here at Coping With Life. As Susan writes on Coping With Life:
Postpartum psychosis is an extremely rare (less than 1 in a thousand) condition in which a mother may be susceptible to “command hallucinations”, i.e. auditory or visual hallucinations which may order her to kill her children in order to save them and her family or prevent evil. This condition presents a true psychological emergency and immediate treatment is required to prevent the possible advancement of the illness that could result in tragedy.
Because such psychotic hallucinations may continue for days at a time and result in the planning of death, it is difficult for a considering jury to believe the mother is truly insane feeling that “insane people are not logical and could not execute a step-by-step plan”. It is this misunderstanding of the course and content of psychotic illness which often brings such outrage and condemnation to the convicted mother during penalty phase of deliberating jurors, resulting in jail terms equivalent to that for intentional murder or manslaughter."
There are actually some sufferers who, in waning moments,are aware they need help, or at least those around them are aware and they try to getthat helpbefore the "bad thing" happens.We can't ignore that a percentage of those peopleare either misdiagnosed, improperly medicated, poorly cared for by untrained providers,and/or released from the hospital without being well … it happens more often than you think.For those who would argue thatmothers with postpartumpsychosis who killcould have, and should have,chosen to ask for help, some have. What about them? What about Andrea Yates, whose psychiatric provider took her off of her antipsychotic medication?!!!
What about this story from the Palm Beach Post about Amy Kern? The paper reports that"Acquaintances portrayed Kern, 30, as a bipolar schizophrenic who had been trying in vain to seek help and medication since a recent pregnancy and postpartum depression exacerbated her condition." Before killing two people, she tried to check into a psychiatric hospital but " … no one would let her in." Why not? What happened?
As Susan Stone pointed out in the Dallas Morning News piece, "We do not want women who abuse children to use this defense. There are very clear guidelines for postpartum psychosis." That part of the story gets missed sometimes I think.
Do you believe there is a difference between a woman who killsa child with ahistory of mental illness or evidence of being mentally ill — for instance she was being treated for a perinatal mood disorder or her family and friends had all shared concern that she was suffering a perinatal mood disorder or her behavior clearly indicated such an illness — and another woman who kills a child without any such history? Might we find that there really are some people whohave beenfailed by everyone around them andwhowere not in control of their thoughts and actions? If so, should they pay a different price?