Guilty by reason of …

Please, somebody wake me up and tell me I’ve been having a bad dream. I didn’t just read that the District Attorney in Collin County has charged a Plano woman, Dena Schlosser, with capital murder. She can be put to death for taking a phrase in the Bible literally and cutting off her baby’s arms. It couldn’t also be true that Child Protective Services is not letting her husband have his other two traumatized, confused kids for just the opposite reason. He didn’t take his wife literally when she told him the night before the incident that she was giving the baby to God. He is being punished because he didn’t know his wife was insane before she carried out an obviously psychotic act. But the district attorney hasn’t figured it out, even after the act.

The reason I know that I’m dreaming is that this is 2004. Our government officials couldn’t be that obtuse. How could they expect the husband to take his wife literally? Even in the Bible, when Samuel’s mother said she was giving her son to God, she meant she was dedicating his life to God’s work. I guess if the CPS officials came to a fork in the road – they would eat with it.

Our officials need to make up their minds. They can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect the wife to think metaphorically and the husband to think literally. As a New York newspaper chief editor (and crusty Texan) told his fence riding journalist, "Don’t pee down both legs at the same time." So what’s the problem? The problem is the law is out of touch with reality. I guess you could say the law is not sane. According to the law, there are two options – guilty OR not guilty by reason of insanity. But she IS guilty. She is guilty by reason of insanity.

Scott Peterson is a totally different story. He is obviously guilty by reason of severe narcissism and sociopathy. He has no conscience. Mrs. Schlosser, Andrea Yates, plus another woman in East Texas last year were all suffering from postpartum psychosis. 

The percent of women who become clinically depressed in the few weeks after having a baby is ironically higher than at any time in a woman’s life. Fortunately, psychosis during this period is not common. It only occurs in about 1 in 1000 deliveries. Most of the time, women who develop postpartum psychosis turn out to be bipolar. This is a serious mood disorder that requires continuous treatment, just as does diabetes.

Most women who develop postpartum psychosis don’t murder their babies, but it is a well known possible complication. Most of the time, women who murder their babies lack adequate family network, have husbands who don’t provide enough emotional comforting, and they are usually involved in a fundamentalist church.

One classic symptom of psychosis is concrete thinking (i.e. taking everything literally). Have you ever had a really crazy dream? That’s the way the psychotic mind works when they are awake – and to them it seems real.

Fortunately, we have excellent medications to treat this disorder. Unfortunately, these medications are expensive and our "managed cost" medical system often only provides less expensive, less effective medication. 

Let’s wake up from the dark ages. I believe the United States is the only country that treats infanticide during postpartum psychosis as a crime. Scott Peterson murdered his wife and unborn child because he didn’t want to be bothered by a child or child support. He planned it out carefully and tried to hide the fact from everyone. Dena Schlosser and Andrea Yates murdered their babies to send them to heaven. They immediately called someone to tell them what they had done. Am I crazy or do these two scenarios seem different?

Guilty by reason of insanity!

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3 Responses to “Guilty by reason of …”

  • Anonymous says:

    Dr Jones–Today is the first time I’ve visited your web site. After reading your personal info, I came to the blog “Guilty by reason of” and was totally blown away by your comments because I, too, suffered postpartum psychosis for nearly 2 years. During that time I tried to bite my son’s finger off, but had no way to control myself. Fortunately, the bite was not very severe, but no one except(you) and other postpartum women could understand this situation. I have not even discussed this news story with my husband because it seems futile, and he is a very compassionate man. I have felt guilt over this issue for nearly 30 years and your article has released me. Thanks.

  • Mandy Jones says:

    Part of the problem is the change in the definition of legally insane–a change which was spurred in part by the acquittal of John W. Hinckley, Jr., who shot and wounded President Reagan in the early 80s. Using the standard at the time, the jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and the public reacted by questioning the insanity defense. Now, a person who cannot control her actions, but who nevertheless knows that her actions are wrong (legally or morally), is no longer considered legally insane. A person is only legally insane if she does not know that her actions are wrong. A fairly arbitrary standard indeed.