Saturday, September 17, 2011

Another Look at the Infanticide Case

A new blogger that I've been reading, Zachary Adams, offers unique perspective on the horrible story that I wrote about in my earlier post (the post is here and the addendum to the post is here).  His posts inspired me to go over and read the actual Memorandum.  He points out that Ms. Effert was still found guilty, and that she must notify the court again if she becomes pregnant and has a court-mandated psychiatric evaluation and a suspended jail sentence (I'll admit I don't know what the point of a "suspended jail sentence" is when the person doesn't actually go to jail.. maybe Thomist can shed some light on that one?  I did ask him to read it since he's about 1000x better at understanding these things than I am... and I'm sure his approach and response will be very different, although I doubt any less disgusted...).

The Memorandum certainly got me thinking.

I wasn't comforted by what I read.  Instead, it shed a little bit of light on how these laws were possibly formed and why there's a problem with the legal system when it comes to cases like this.  Because I think few would argue that a woman could deliver her baby, strangle it with her underwear, throw it outside where it was exposed to the elements and then face no jail time for her crime (and yet be well enough not to be headed to an asylum of some sort).

Here were the points that stood out to me (with my comments in red):

“The appellant argues that the verdict is unreasonable, in that no reasonable jury, properly instructed and acting judicially, could have found second-degree murder: R. v. Biniaris, 2000 SCC 15 (CanLII), 2000 SCC 15, [2000] 1 S.C.R. 381. She argues that on the evidence presented her crime can be nothing more than infanticide. Both of the experts who testified at the trial supported the position of the appellant that “her mind was disturbed” at the time…”
Okay this jumped out first because of the phrase "nothing more than infanticide."  When one says it is "nothing more than infanticide," one acts as if infanticide is hardly a crime.  And the sentence seems to agree with this, being as the consequences, when compared with the crime really are little more than a slap on the wrist.  Language influences our perception of the world around us and these four words are very telling.  

The other part that stood out was the claim that "her mind was disturbed" at the time of the murder.  The first thought that came to mind when I read this was that most people who kill other people could probably say that "their mind was disturbed" when they did committed murder (if they aren't complete sociopaths).  That doesn't mean they get a "get out of jail free card."  

“Dr. Singh admitted he had little experience with infanticide, and his opinion was based heavily on statements made to him by the appellant, which were arguably contradicted by other evidence on the record, particularly the statements she gave to the police about what happened. Further, his methodology had been challenged during cross-examination…”

So her story later on contradicted the story she told the police originally... but the expert, who had "little experience" with this sort of thing, decided to go with the later statements that she made after plotting the strategy of her insanity defense...

“33. A female person commits infanticide when by a wilful act or omission she causes the death of her newlyborn child, if at the time of the act or omission she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth to the child and by reason thereof or of the effect of lactation consequent on the birth of the child her mind is then disturbed.”

Seriously?  You can worm your way out of murder because of "the effect of lactation."  

In my opinion, this really gives us some broader insight into this entire law and the way much of society in the West views children.  Here's the demonically influenced slant we've seen regurgitated in recent years:  Children are a burden.  Getting pregnant is the worst thing that can happen to a woman.  It will ruin her life.  Her life will be over.  In light of this way of thinking, being driven crazy is a logical result of childbirth (I know postpartum psychosis is real, but I think it's also a very real possibility that this woman, who had a story and changed it, could have decided to kill her child).  

I also have to wonder: if this woman is so sick and so severed from reality that she killed her own child and tossed it out like garbage, should she be out walking around?  Shouldn't she be committed for her own safety and the safety of others?  If her mind really is so "disturbed."  

And a concurring decision that says:

Nonetheless, as my colleagues have noted, Parliament has created a special offence, infanticide, which recognizes that the moral blameworthiness of the act is reduced when it is committed by a new mother whose mind was disturbed at the time of the killing. Infanticide will often be difficult to advance in response to a murder charge, as it will invariably rely on expert evidence that attempts to reconstruct and explain what is, in the final analysis, almost inexplicable. The Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Molodowic, 2000 SCC 16 (CanLII), 2000 SCC 16, [2000] 1 S.C.R. 420, has recognized that juries may receive such evidence with “unjustified skepticism.”

It's not inexplicable, it's murder.  It's valuing our own existence and ease of lifestyle so far over someone else's that we think it's okay to take their life, just as is often the case with abortion.  It's evil, incredible evil, staring us in the face, and we excuse it, and say that "she just had a really tough time" and let her go on her way.  And it is the result of the devaluing of human life to such a point that it's excusable.

I was more disturbed to find that there was a precedent for this and that it's apparently the law up north when something like this happens... even if a jury doesn't believe that it was the case... 

I do appreciate reading your point of view Zachary (and I suggest you all head over and read it too, because his explanation will show you a different side, which you can consider).  And I hope you don't think I've sensationalized this.  That wasn't my intent at all.  Instead I think we all need to take a good hard look at how life, born and unborn, is viewed in our world.  The idea that bringing a child into this world is so horrible that this result is excusable (or at least merits only monitoring) is deeply disturbing.  

We all know that there are laws that are unjust (for example the ones that let us kill the unborn).  This one, which says that infanticide is wrong, but let's the mother out without a jail sentence, can certainly be added to the roll.  


  1. Hello Cam.

    I just wanted to clarify I wasn't accusing individual bloggers of sensationalizing this, as much as the news media. You might recall that the original sources of this story appearing on CAF were rather more inaccurate than what's being carried now.

    Thanks for the mention and the cross-link, though. I really do appreciate it. I hope this hasn't soured things between ourselves. I really do enjoy following your blog.

  2. Hi Zach-
    It hasn't at all! I really appreciated the link to the original case and I was hoping you didn't think I was sensationalizing it! The whole things is so sad. I didn't see the original stories on CAF... I heard about it on the Catholic radio when we were driving somewhere and finally found an article when I got home.

    And I like your blogs so I was hoping that the link will get you a few new followers since starting out it can be hard to get traffic! You're doing great work! Writing this post I was hoping it wasn't too emotional (because it's definitely from an emotional point of view). You do a good job looking at it objectively, which was another reason I put the link up, so people could see another explanation.

  3. As someone who has suffered postpartum depression and psychosis (though separately) I am wondering how often this afflicts women IMMEDIATELY after giving birth. It certainly did not for me. I have heard of severe depression during pregnancy and I am wondering if that was going on with this woman.

    But yes, my reaction was very similar to yours, even being someone who has dealt with mental illness personally. She needs to either be in jail or an inpatient facility of some kind.

  4. Anon-
    I had depression during pregnancy and was diagnosed with PPD and PTSD less than 5 days after the birth of my son. It was, and continues to be, a real struggle of mine. I had flashbacks and sometimes didn't even know where I was in the beginning, but I never, not even one time, thought about hurting myself or my precious child. There was one time that I thought I was still in the hospital and my husband handed me our baby, who was much bigger than what he was in the hospital! I was worried, but more worried about this poor baby and wondered where his mother was. The episode lasted about 2 minutes.

    I agree with you, as well as Cam. This woman needs to pay for her crime, even if she has repented (which I wouldn't know if she has). Consequences matter.

  5. I suppose my reaction is more like a remembrance. Back in college, they had just enacted the safe baby program. The one where you can drop an infant off and not be held liable, which I think was a brilliant idea to ward off infanticide and neglect. our school one of the swimmers who was Canadian ended up being deported. She apparently had given birth with only her boyfriend assisting and then they threw the baby in a dumpster. They claimed the baby was born stillborn. But labor and the after affects being what they are she went to the emergency room claiming that her period was out of control. Naturally the medical personnel knew that this wasn't the case and finally got her to confess about the dumpster.

    They spent time trying to locate the baby even digging through the dump, but never found the body. Therefore they couldn't prove that the baby was stillborn or that it had been alive and the couple killed it. I don't think she served much jail time. I think she was just sent back home.

    It was really sad then. And it infuriated me because here were two college people who didn't have the forethought to leave the baby at the hospital where they wouldn't get prosecuted. At the very least, the baby could have gotten medical attention.

    So unfortunately, this whole mess is actually more common then people realize.

    Although on a similar note, I saw a news story of a lady who didn't know she was pregnant (no symptoms, body changes, or anything thought it was menopause) gave birth on her toilet, but had the forethought to seek out her neighbor afterward who was a paramedic. That's the kind a person who deserves applause. Of course, she was older so age might make a difference.

    Contrary to Zach, I think these things do need to be sensationalized a little because most unwanted pregnant people aren't thinking straight. They don't go seek help or resources, but they watch the news. They're more likely to remember baby safe sites if they hear about them.

  6. I'm of two minds about this.

    I do think that setting this woman free is a mistake; anyone who is detached from reality enough to kill a person needs mental health care and monitoring. I don't, however, believe that throwing people in jail necessarily proves that we really care about something in our society, nor has it ever historically. Punishment, especially in a dehumanizing place like jail, doesn't really lead to healing or safety. Some people need to be locked away permanently to keep society safe, but that's not quite the same thing as punishment - that's an unfortunate requirement of responsibility in some cases.

    What's most disturbing, as you pointed out, is the phrase used in the court: "nothing more than infanticide," as if infanticide were a different, lesser kind of murder than the murder of an adult. Here's where I get fierce! When it comes to one human being, in this case the mother, I try to use compassion and forgiveness and think of how tragedy can be avoided in the future. When it comes to court systems, though, there's no excuse for what they said. They could have chosen to let this woman out of jail because, in her circumstance, mental illness made her unable to cognate the full impact what she was doing - but they still should have charged her with murder and refrained from commentary that belittled the life of that baby and all babies.

    In other words, they manipulated the charge to ensure a different sentence, and I am with you: that was awful. I believe that the sentence was reasonable, but it was dangerously wrong to portray infanticide as lesser charge than murder to get there. The ends don't justify the means.

  7. As a reply to deltaflute, I'm not saying that these things shouldn't be openly discussed; merely that they should be discussed honestly. None of the news coverage I've seen has mentioned anything about safe baby sites. ALL of it has mentioned a woman killing a baby she couldn't handle.

  8. Thanks Zach. I don't live in Canada so I'm not sure what the news was reporting. But of the few US cases I've seen they do mention along with the women about safe baby sites and things like that. Although most of the reports are local news. To make national news you have to drown your child in a bathtub, sadly.

    Shame the Canadian news isn't being more informative. It would be a good opportunity to remind the public.


I love comments and I read every single comment that comes in (and I try to respond when the little ones aren't distracting me to the point that it's impossible!). Please show kindness to each other and our family in the comment box. After all, we're all real people on the other side of the screen!