Most of us have heard of the book A Child Called It. School Library Journal describes it as an, “autobiographical account charts the abuse of a young boy as his alcoholic mother first isolates him from the rest of the family; then torments him; and finally nearly kills him through starvation, poisoning, and one dramatic stabbing.”
This book has led to extensive conversation on a condition called Munchausen by Proxy, a set of behaviors usually enacted on a child by a mother seeking and reveling in attention. The ‘by proxy’ simply means ‘a placeholder.’ In this situation the placeholder is the child, who takes on the role of patient. Those effected with Munchausen’s (without the ‘proxy’), “assume the status of “patient,” and thereby to win attention, nurturance, and lenience from professionals or nonprofessionals that they feel unable to obtain in any other way. Unlike individuals who engage in MALINGERING, people with factitious disorder and Munchausen syndrome are not primarily seeking external gains such as disability payments or narcotic drugs—though they may receive them nonetheless.”[i] Yet some psychologists argue that the disorder may not exist as a disease at all. In fact MSBP states that, “There is no consensus among doctors, child care professionals, lawyers and others about Munchausen, even on what to call it. Also, referred to as Factitious Disorder by Proxy and Pediatric Condition Falsification, it is not classified as a disorder in the DSM-IV, the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of mental conditions, because of “insufficient information.” The American Academy of Pediatrics also has no policy on it.”[ii]
One of the more recent cases to make headlines about this disease is the case and death of Garnett Spears.
“In the short five years that he lived, little Garnett Spears was plagued with health issues, spending much of his time in the hospital. He suffered from constant digestive issues, fevers, seizures and ear infections. He also had to have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach.
His mother, 25-year-old former nursing student Lacey Spears, took to social media to chronicle her son’s health issues, voicing her worry and frustration. Thousands of people soon rallied behind this poor young mother with the sick little boy.
In January 2014, Garnett was once again admitted to the hospital where it was determined that he had dangerously high sodium levels. The hospital became suspicious, alerting the police and Child Protective Services (CPS). As her son was lying in his hospital bed in tremendous pain and slowly dying, Spears spent much of her time on Facebook and her blog, posting a play-by-play, relishing the attention she was receiving. On January 22, Garnett was declared brain-dead. His mother took him off life support the following day.
During a search of the family home, police found an open container of sea salt and two feeding bags which later tested positive for sodium. Lacey was arrested and charged with manslaughter and second-degree murder. In April 2015, she received a sentence of 20 years to life, with the judge stating that MSBP had caused Lacey to crave the attention that being the mother of a sick child gave her.”[iii]
To read more about cases involving Munchausen’s by Proxy visit http://listverse.com/2015/09/03/10-shocking-cases-involving-munchausen-syndrome-by-proxy/. If you or anyone you know exhibits behaviors associated with this syndrome contact your doctor as soon as possible. For a list of what to expect, take with, and question regarding a Munchausen doctor’s appointment visit https://members.mhn.com/web/public/default/Mayo/DS00965.
[i] Feldman, Marc, Dr. “Muchausen Syndrome, Muchausen by Proxy, Malingering, and Fictitious Disorder Site.” Munchausens. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
[ii] Levin, Steve. “Sick Kids.” Sick Kids. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
[iii] “10 Shocking Cases Involving Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy – Listverse.”Listverse. N.p., 02 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.