Academic journal article East Asian Archives of Psychiatry

Maternal Filicide among Women Admitted to Forensic Psychiatric Institutions in Malaysia: Case Series

Academic journal article East Asian Archives of Psychiatry

Maternal Filicide among Women Admitted to Forensic Psychiatric Institutions in Malaysia: Case Series

Article excerpt

Introduction

'Filicide' is a general term used when a parent (biological, step-, or adoptive parent) kills his / her own child. (1-3) When the victim is aged less than a day, the term 'neonaticide' is used. 'Infanticide' is commonly used when the victim is aged less than a year. (4) When the victims of killing are the child/ren and the spouse of the offender, the act is called 'familicide'. (5) Filicide includes a spectrum of behaviour that ranges from non-intentional to an intentional act of killing, from death related to maltreatment (such as abandonment, neglect, or exposure) to fatal assault (such as suffocation, strangulation, and stabbing) and from covert to overt child homicide. (6) Many scholars have used 'maternal filicide' or 'paternal filicide' when the perpetrator is the mother or the father of the victim, respectively. (3,7)

Interest in filicide among women with psychiatric disorders has increased considerably in recent years and is reflected by the substantial literature that has been published on this subject. While emergent research has refined our understanding of maternal filicide, a major limitation of current global knowledge of literature is the scarcity of empirical data as well as scholarly published studies from developing and poorly resourced countries. Thus, it hinders a broader understanding of this predicament.

The surge in research in filicide has begun since the review of filicide by Resnick in 1969. (2) Derived from the world literature of 13 languages from 1751 to 1967, a total of 155 filicide cases were reviewed. In this landmark study, Resnick (2) proposed a classification of filicide into 5 groups according to motive: (i) 'altruistic'--filicide occurred together with suicide of the parent or it was believed that by committing filicide, the parent could relieve his / her child's suffering; (ii) 'acutely psychotic'--the parent killed his / her child under the influence of psychosis (such as hallucination or delusion) due to mental illness or organic psychosis; (iii) 'unwanted child'--the child was killed because s/he was not wanted or desired (such as illegitimate child, severe poverty); (iv) 'accidental' or fatal child maltreatment--the death of a child following battering or child abuse; and (v) 'spouse revenge'--the parent killed the child in the attempt to make his / her partner suffer. Later, in 1970, Resnick (4) introduced 'neonaticide' to indicate killing of a newborn aged less than 1 day. Since the review by Resnick, various other proposed classifications with slight adjustments and modifications have been suggested. (8-12)

There is no consensus on the prevalence of women with mental illness who commit filicide. The major limitation to the study of maternal filicide is inadequate numbers and inconsistent methodologies. The rates of major mental illness such as psychosis or depression in people who commit filicide are likewise inconsistent. In reported studies, the proportion with psychosis has ranged from 27% to 73%, (4,13-16) whereas the proportion with depression has been reported to be as low as 6% or as high as 82%. (2,17,18) Such variation may be due to differences in study location and the nature of the samples. Studies that have been carried out in a psychiatric setting (13,19) tend to report a higher percentage of mental illness. (14,15) Nonetheless the presence of minor mental illness in filicidal offenders was relatively low: only about 2% to 4% of studied offenders had an anxiety disorder (20,21) and a small proportion, in particular those who committed neonaticide, manifested dissociative phenomenon or symptoms of post-traumatic stress. (22,23)

Most researchers agree that mental illness is an important mediating factor in filicide, especially in those who kill older infants or children. Opinion, however, is divided on the presence of profound mental illness in women who commit neonaticide. Some believe that such women have no frank mental disorders, (24-27) while others report a significant proportion with remarkable symptoms of mental illness. …

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