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Historic Texas Bill Limits Jail Time for Infanticide Caused by Postpartum Psychosis

By Expert HERWriter
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Representative Jessica Farrar (D-TX) has introduced a new bill to the Texas Legislature which could limit jail time for mothers who commit infanticide while suffering from postpartum psychosis.

While adoption of this historic bill would not replace or affect the appropriate use of the insanity defense for such crimes – a defense which can eliminate jail time while mandating sustained psychological treatment - it would limit jail time consideration during the penalty phase to two years for mothers deemed to have been under the influence of a pregnancy or lactation related psychosis within 12 months of giving birth at the time of the offense.

George Parnham, the Houston based attorney who defended Andrea Yates, helped draft the legislation and as a practitioner and advocate, I served as a reviewer. Mr. Parnham has been an unfailing advocate and champion of this issue, helping to lead professionals and constituents toward enlightened consideration rather than prejudicial condemnation. Parnham, Farrar, and Dr. Margaret Spinelli, expert witness and author of the book Infanticide, exemplify the convergence of social justice and compassion as they seek to inform and reform social, psychiatric and legal perspectives on maternal mental health issues. You can read the story which broke in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News by Wendy Hundley.

The primarily outraged comments which follow the story - the majority in passionate opposition to the measure - evidence the ongoing stigma of mental illness which seems to escalate to merciless intolerance upon consideration of a mentally ill mother. Is it any wonder that encouraging suffering mothers to reach out for help has proved so challenging? Former New Jersey First Lady Mary Jo Codey has tried to encourage early identification and treatment through her “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign.

While the death or harm to a helpless infant brings understandable revulsion, jurors are charged with consideration of crime context when deliberating punishment. The insanity defense exists because severe mental illness is a reality which blinds reason.

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EmpowHER Guest

There is a clear difference between someone who commits infanticide while ill with postpartum psychosis and one who doesn't. These women should be treated differently. It is a failing of society when one of these acts occurs: it means none of us did our job in caring for this woman and her child/children and keeping all of them safe until the mother has recovered.

March 25, 2009 - 9:49am
EmpowHER Guest

Are we living in jungle? All homicide cases do have some psycological angle. We are creating and defending monsters.

March 24, 2009 - 3:47am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Those of us who are committed to improving the mental health and well-being of mothers and their infants are also unbearably pained and disturbed by the death of an innocent child, but we know without question that the acts that occur in the maelstrom of untreated psychosis are neither well thought out or thought through. They are driven by the cruel aberrations in brain chemistry that make it impossible for the afflicted mother to control her behavior or her actions. To assume that this legislation will promote crimes of infanticide is akin to censoring sex education in schools in the belief that it will increase sexual activity among teens. The most powerful weapon we have is knowledge, education and information. It is legislation like this new bill from Texas that increases society's consciousness about the absolute necessity of increasing awareness of the potentially horrific consequences of undiagnosed and untreated psychosis so that ultimately, we can avoid one more devastating and irreversible death of a child and the accompanying destruction of a family. Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D

March 24, 2009 - 12:32pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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