Opinion column: Stop the psychosis

By Elie Dvorin

Although the act of infanticide has been practiced since the beginning of time, the postpartum depression legal defense is a product of our generation – and a ridiculous one at that. Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects some women after they give birth, and postpartum psychosis is an even more severe, albeit rare, form, often accompanied by hallucinations. In recent years, beginning with Andrea Yates, some mothers who claim to be fighting postpartum depression have been murdering their children in violent and horrendous ways.

Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub, and although she was found guilty, a technicality is forcing a new trial. Carisa Ashe, a mother of seven, shook her baby to death and accepted the judge’s offer to get sterilized rather than go face prison time. Deanna Laney bludgeoned her three children in the head with large rocks because she thought the world was ending and God told her to do so. Two of the children died, one is permanently damaged, and she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Mine Ener slit her baby’s throat with a 12-inch kitchen knife. In prison, she took her own life. Dena Schlosser cut off her baby’s arms, watched her die and was found not competent to stand trial. All of these women were supposedly suffering from postpartum depression.

These cases are similar in the fact that they’re all absolutely bizarre. But the stronger similarity lies in the fact that our criminal justice system doesn’t take postpartum murder cases very seriously. Too often our legal system is preoccupied with political correctness and not stepping on anybody’s toes. As a result, the victims of these violent crimes become almost irrelevant and the perpetrators of these crimes become the victims.

This postpartum murder defense is part of our litigation-obsessed culture – one that is unwilling to accept any personal responsibility for our actions. Obesity is caused by fast food chains, violent behavior is caused by anti-depressants, and ironically, violent behavior (in other cases) is caused by the lack of anti-depressant drugs.

People empathize with these women because they’re duped by the media and special interest groups looking for a story that has emotional appeal. The National Organization for Women, a group that does some good work but often takes a very radical stance, was on the prowl during the Andrea Yates trial, acting as her cheerleader. Never mind the five dead children.

One of the most insensitive displays of absurdity took place at Villanova University. Mine Ener was a well-respected history professor before she slit her baby’s throat and killed herself. The university memorialized her with a plaque in the library in order to raise awareness of mental illness. Obviously, decent people were outraged at the sight of a memorial to someone who barbarically killed her child, and the university removed the plaque.

Postpartum depression may or may not be as serious of a problem as the media makes it out to be. Regardless, it is cowardly and wrong to use it to justify horrendous murders. Many people suffer from depression, and these people don’t go around slaughtering infants. It’s fine to have sympathy for people with mental illness, but by placing these women on a pedestal and affording them the protection of the law, we’re slapping the real victims in the face.

Too many people believe that these women shouldn’t face jail time or the death penalty because that wouldn’t serve to rehabilitate them. Granted, one function of the system is corrective in nature, but retribution is also an important part of it. When you commit a violent crime, you need to be punished, and there is no doubt in my mind that harsh sentences will help deter these killings in the future. The husbands of these women often forgive them, as do mental health experts and radical interest groups, but the state doesn’t have to forgive them. Neither should you.