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Why Do Some Mothers Induce Illness in Their Own Children?

Authors of a recent report do not speculate on variations in time or between cultures, which might give a clue as to the possible causes.

by
Theodore Dalrymple

Bio

April 29, 2014 - 2:00 pm
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One of the things that medical practice teaches the observer of human nature is that no behavior is so bizarre that humans are incapable of it and will not indulge in it. Indeed, they often seem to take delight in inventing new forms of destructive and self-destructive conduct to assert their freedom from the dictates of reason and good sense. I have not been entirely immune from this tendency myself.

Among the stranger patterns of behavior that doctors encounter is that of parents, overwhelmingly mothers, who deliberately exaggerate, make up, or physically induce symptoms in their young children so that they are investigated, often extensively, by doctors. The first two mothers whom I ever encountered who did this put blood in their child’s urine and interfered with thermometers in order to make it appear that their child was suffering from fever.

An article in a recent edition of the Lancet reviews what is known about this very odd and dangerous conduct (6 percent of children whose mothers induce symptoms in them are eventually killed by them, and 25 percent of them have siblings who have died in suspicious circumstances).

How common is this behavior? The article reviews the various estimates. In part it is a matter of definition, which is why the estimates vary between 2 and 89 per 100,000 children. This variation alone suggests a dimensional rather than a categorical phenomenon. An Italian study found that 0.5 percent of children seen in a pediatric clinics were the victims of factitious illness reported or induced by their parents. The authors do not speculate on variations in prevalence in time or between cultures, which might give a clue as to the possible causes of this conduct. The data are simply insufficient for them to comment.

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All Comments   (16)
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The point of this excellent article is that we live in an era of 'Victim as Hero'. The new syndromes must have political clout and emotional advocates, because they just don't exist except in the mind. Dr Dalrymple, after years of working in the 3rd world (where if you are sick, bi-gosh, you are SICK), and British prison system, has a brisker view of this modern world. As is noticeable from some of the various comments, to question the existence of these 'syndromes' is to be insulting and bad. Which is an indicator that we are far from discussing, say, pneumonia or a broken leg or tuberculosis.

13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am very uncomfortable when mothers go around making speeches about their child's disability. I had a disabled child, now a disabled adult. If I stepped into the public eye and discussed his life it would hurt him terribly, so why would I or any mother do this?
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
One possible motivation is so that other parents (and their children) do not feel isolated, alone, or responsible for their childrens' special circumstances. Congratulations on having been so together every day in every way that you never needed either support or validation, not to mention a helping hand or guidance.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
I once had a woman start her presentation on why we should support her and her husbands multimillion dollar real estate project with a 15 minute monolog on what it was to be the mother of two autistic sons. After the meeting I googled her. Over the last half dozen years she had ridden her sons' condition into multiple newspaper columns and TV appearances. She was always at the center of the stories rather than the boys.

We were a tougher audience and called her out on an entirely unprofessional waste of our time. She seemed shocked the victim card hadn't won us over to support an unrealistic project.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a real condition. I know. My husband has been suffering some form of it since childhood, and now in his sixties, sleeps between twelve and eighteen hours a day. He can stay awake for, at most, four-six hours, but then must sleep. His mother has always been baffled by it as none of her other children suffered this fate. Though rare, it is a life-killer, and I pray researchers discover a cure for this orphan phenomena before it disables and destroys the lives of many others.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Munchausen-by- proxy syndrome.

This, supposedly, is why Justina Pelletier is incarcerated by the Dept of Kidnapping in Massachusetts. because of course there is a big pharma drug out there to treat it. Just like all the other drugs that "treat life".

and Justina is likely going to die, because she is being withheld treatment for an actual medical disorder.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for answering anonymous 2FD5E

Yes, there are some poor essays on PTSD and Gulf War illness done by this author in the past.
I have known ex soldiers with Gulf War Illness and real PTSD. Both involve suffering and symptoms of which he obviously has no idea of.

I agree that he is reduced to a talking head on this subject, or anything to do with serious psychiatry.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems I may share the doc's view of PTSD. The worst 'trauma' one can suffer in the military is probably being in the kill zone of an artillery barrage. I state this based on numerous books I have read by combat veterans and the experience of my first cousin who fought in a Pacific island jungle campaign in WWII.

Jungle fighting was most often done with small arms, because lines of sight in the jungle are quite short, perhaps less than 25-50 yards in most cases, not usually artillery country. My cousin said one can almost 'get used to' small arms fire, but artillery bombardments, which only happened once to my cousin in a kind of meadow, were unbearable. (He survived this real trauma without any feelings other than relief when it ended and bad memories of it.)

Simply being in the military is not at all what any normal person would call traumatic, unless one had a serious psychological/emotional problem in the first place.

One Air Force NCO, who appeared in a TV commercial, said he was a victim of PTSD. Must have been the noise of the engines I guess.

Finally, 'having PTSD' like having any disability, which is for some reason an epidemic at this point in our history, pays off in receiving the sympathy and assets of others.

13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
'Finally, 'having PTSD' like having any disability, which is for some reason an epidemic at this point in our history, pays off in receiving the sympathy and assets of others.'

Not least the good doctor and his colleagues. But the doctor picks the lowest hanging fruit. It's called cowardice. Still, if that sort of thing impresses you...

We have more doctors than ever before. Hence, more illness than ever before.
Bad doctors blame their patients.

BTW are you really using only two cases to support your hypothesis?
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Can't edit for some reason.

But the doctor picks the lowest hanging fruit. This may have something to do with the state pension he receives.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
What organisation did he work for?

CFS and ME are serious physical illnesses that have been recognised by WHO since the 1969. CFS can not be caused by a mother. Of course any comment saying this has already been dismissed as the "Chronic Fatigue Lobby" by the writer, so why listen to facts and statistics.
Interestingly Sophia Mirza is a well known case who actually died from M.E because doctors forcibly hospitlised her and said that her mother made her ill. Her case can be googled.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
'What organisation did he work for?'

Theodore Dalrymple (Dr Anthony Daniels) was an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist (for just over a decade, located in Birmingham, UK).

He has the same views of PTSD in ex-military. (and just about every other psychiatric disorder.)
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The movie, "The Sixth Sense", has a scene illustrating what you're talking about, Dr. Dalrymple.

If you've never seen the movie: a young boy sees "dead people", i.e., ghosts of dead people who walk the earth and still think at some level they're still alive. In one of his visions, he sees a young girl-ghost throwing up, yet complaining that she's feeling much better. He goes to her funeral reception and she appears again, handing him a videotape, which he places in the living room of the bereaved family. The father starts watching the video and witnesses his wife, the girl's mother, poisoning the girl -- caught red-handed by the dead girl, too late to help her, of course, but in time to help her younger sister.

> One of the things that medical practice teaches the observer of human nature is that no behavior is so bizarre that humans are incapable of it and will not indulge in it.

This is what we Calvinists refer to as the depraved nature of fallen man.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder what percentage of these mothers is married. If the fathers of these children are present, are they aware of what their (hopefully) wives are doing? Are they conspiring with this behavior? Or are they simply clueless?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry but the template doesn't fit.

Doctor Dalrymple went out of his way to defend Sir Roy Meadow who was partially responsible for the conviction of solicitor Sally Clarke and who claimed that most of the 'culprits' he had identified were 'well-educated middle class ladies'.

Frankly Theodore has little to offer this debate. Except as a 'talking head' or a 'rent a hack'. The same applies to the debate on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Leave it to the experts, not some embittered 'celeb doc' who is mainly driven by resentment of the failure of an organisation he worked for, for little over a decade, to recognise his (non existent) 'genus'.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
"rent a hack" i like it.

the best description of this guy that i have seen.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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