I can imagine few things more horrific than a mother killing her own child. Mothers are warm, kind, nurturing people who would rather die than have anything happen to one of their precious children. But as we know all too well mothers do kill, and unfortunately it's all too frequent.
There are mothers who kill because they want revenge against their boyfriends or because they are desperate to keep the man they love. These women, like Susan Smith, the mother who drowned her two children in the lake while they were asleep in their car seats, are criminals. Although women like Smith (pictured right) may have many mitigating circumstances that make them feel desperate and alone, all of them have alternative choices besides killing.
It is believed that this was an example of altruistic filicide, motivated by a mother's love and her belief that her children's deaths were better than leaving them in this world without a mother. Were this woman to have lived she would have been tried for murder, but is she the same type of criminal as the examples above?
What few realize is that Ms. Yates remains under the jurisdiction of the courts. Although no longer in maximum security, she will remain in a state hospital until a judge determines that she is no longer a danger to herself or others. Even if she were well this is unlikely to happen.
So why rehash the Andrea Yates case? Yes, I testified that she was psychotic at the time of the drownings (hearing voices speaking to her from the TV, believing that she was invaded by Satan and that he was trying to ruin her children through her and send them to hell) but I've had many arguments with others who believe that although mentally ill, she was responsible for the killings and should be punished. I'm not going to continue to try to change the minds of others about this particular case.
It is estimated that between 1 and 2 women per 1000 deliveries will develop postpartum psychosis. This is a psychiatric emergency. The psychotic thoughts revolve around the baby and often include thoughts of harming the child and themselves. The only way to treat these disorders is through prompt diagnosis and medical treatment. A mother who is psychotic should never be left alone with her child.
Andrea Yates was not a woman destined to be a killer. She came from a good family, was highly educated, and loved her children enormously. It could have happened to you or me or to any other woman who delivered a baby. Society let her down. Doctors let her down. Our criminal justice system initially let her down.