Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

Munchausen Syndrome by proxy is a chronic form of so called factitious disorder, when a person fabricates or induces syndromes of a hard disease in another person. Munchausen SyndromeFrequently it can be related to a parent and little baby, when a mother or (very rarely) a father tries to prove that her child has symptoms of a serious illness and to gain attention and sympathy from medical personnel, or to appear as a good, concerned and caring parent.

The term of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy was given to this disorder in 1977 by Dr. Roy Meadow, English medical specialist and pediatrician. He extended known term of Munchausen Syndrome, introduced by Dr. Richard Asher to describe the disorder of people, who claim that they themselves have fake syndromes of a disease. “By proxy” means redirection of invented illness onto the other person.

This disorder is relatively rare, but during the last decades its percentage has been increasing. The exact causes and psychological backgrounds of MSbP are not known, but certainly it is a disease of parents, not the children. That is why MSbP is considered to be one of the fiercest forms of child abuse, and many specialists recognize it as a criminal act, which may require legislative involvement and may result in public punishment.

It is very hard for doctors to make correct diagnosis on cases of MSbP: they must investigate medical history not only of the child, but also of the parents, and evaluate psychological and moral development of the family. There are a number of common syndromes, which parents of MSbP victims may demonstrate, and which may help to determine this syndrome. Some of them are the following:

(a) emotionally unstable parents, who demonstrate unusual calmness or, on the contrary, excessive anxiety about the illness of their child;
(b) parents, who demonstrate deep knowledge of all the details of different medical sicknesses, or who enjoy the atmosphere of hospitals very much and easily ready to accept all serious medical involvements, like surgery, etc.;
(c) parents, who try very hard to look caring and loving;
(d) parents, who tell lies about the situation in the family, who are emotionally far away from one another, or who report about extraordinary negative evens in their life, like accidents or house fire;
(e) parents, who obviously try to gain extra public attention and acknowledgment, etc.

In many cases the victims of MSbP are children of the parents, who has some neurotic disorders or who suffer from direct Munchausen Syndrome. Besides, frequently the most alarming warning sign of the syndrome “by proxy” is the situation, when mother has history of the same hard disease, which is being induced to the child. Also, risk of MSbP grows very high in those families, where the incidents of unexplained diseases or sudden deaths of infants or young children took place before.

It is very important for investigating of MSbP to choose right methods and approaches to the offenders. Firstly, proper medical examination of the child is required. Then, it is necessary to interview both parents and the child, if he is enough adult. Flexibility and attentiveness are essential in such interviews in order not to evoke suspicion or aggression from the side of parents. Also, it is remarkable that false accusations would be ethically very wrong and abusive to the parents, especially if they had lost their child.

If the parents are considered to be guilty in child abuse, it is necessary to separate them from the child and offer proper psychological treatment. Doctors must not directly accuse such mothers and fathers, but try to explain them that there is no medical cause of any illness of the child and there are no reasons to continue useless tests and worries.

In cases, when children-victims of MSbP died, it becomes a serious criminal act, so it is necessary to investigate the problem with the help of authorized specialists and punish the parents, if they proved to be guilty in child’s abuse. Such maternal homicides must serve as alarming signals for other parents, who truly desire their children to develop normally and happily, besides, it will help to protect many other potential victims of MSbP.

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