In a recently released case study, the FBI spotlights the obscure mental disorder Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. The study outlines the signs and symptoms of this often misunderstood syndrome, and discusses how the recent rise in MSP cases has impacted both law enforcement officers, and our criminal justice system.
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (hereafter referred to as MSP), is a severe mental disorder in which those afflicted cause harm to close friends or family members in order to draw attention to themselves. Women are most often the perpetrators of the syndrome, and its victims the woman's own child.
People may think that anyone who would do something so horrific, can't possibly love their children. On the contrary, people with MSP often express extreme love and attentiveness towards their child. Thus, the dichotomy. The major trademark of the disorder is causing just enough harm to the victim so as to garner sympathy and attention from physicians, law enforcement, family, etc. MSP perpetrators crave attention like a drug. They must injure their children over and over again to get that all consuming high. They are very thoughtful in choosing their modus operandi. ie, injecting air or fluid into an IV. They must be careful to harm in a way that can't be easily detected.
Introducing air in an IV mimics the common disorder of Apnea, (The tempory suspension of breathing).
The fact that MSP can look like so many other common disorders makes it hard for physicians to diagnose, and equally as hard for law enforcement officials to prove. Often the only option is to try to catch the perpetrator comitting the act, while secretly being filmed. Officials must be careful when videotaping suspects. If not done with the permission of the doctor, hospital adminisrators, and other legal personnel, said taping can lead to claims of entrapment, violation of rights, etc.
Further all though MSP cases are on the rise, not all caregivers who kill (particularly mothers) are affected with MSP. Just as not all people with MSP are criminally insane.
When dealing with MSP, one thing is certain, it can be emotionaly draining, and challenging to all those involved. Much more needs to be learned about this complex disorder in order to treat and respond to it effectively.