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

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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 psychiatric emergency and immediate treatment is required to prevent possible tragedy.

Because psychotic hallucinations may consistently present and involve establishment of a plan eventually resulting in death of the infant, woman or both, it can be 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”. Such misunderstanding of the course and content of psychotic illness fuels outrage sometimes resulting in jail terms equivalent to those meant for intentional murder or manslaughter.

One determination of psychosis may be a mother’s own response to troubling thoughts, feelings and urges. A woman with the more common postpartum depression, for example, may have thoughts of harming her baby, herself, wishing to give the baby up for adoption, or regret the baby’s birth, but she is deeply troubled and repulsed by these feelings and usually does not act on them. A woman with the extremely rare form of postpartum psychosis, however, believes these hallucinations are real, that following the commands may save herself and her child from perceived evil, and is therefore more likely to act on such thoughts. Medication can often stabilize pyschosis within days or weeks, ending the transient break from reality.

The bill for a sentence cap now proposed to the Texas legislature is not perfect. It would be preferable that psychological help and treatment be the primary “penalty” for the mother who creates a crime while suffering from the severe incapacitation of postpartum psychosis. But its submission to the Texas legislature marks a critical first step toward helping jurors acknowledge the reality, characteristics and attributions of postpartum psychosis and its role in establishing the degree of culpability for infanticide.

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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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