Mental disease is not a crime. Society's role is not to banish mental patients, but to care for them while recognizing the patient's human rights and the need to safeguard the public. A society's attitude toward the mentally ill reflects its moral standards, values…
- Former supreme court chief justice Aharon Barak
By this criterion how should Israeli society, and the media in particular, evaluate its performance in the case of the mother suspected of starving her toddler son due to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP)?
In this rare disorder, which is almost impossible to diagnose and cannot be treated, an adult caregiver deliberately causes harm to a vulnerable dependent - most often a child. The underlying cause is a morbid craving for attention.
MSP is either a personality or a psychiatric disorder - experts disagree - though it can have criminal consequences. Most professionals believe that a mother with MSP does have the capacity to control her urges. We cannot know what impelled this mother to allegedly inflict suffering on her child. Her psychiatric evaluation began only Monday night.
After the mother was arrested by police, the family obtained a court order barring publication of the story. Somehow a Hebrew tabloid got wind of the news, challenged the injunction and won. Perhaps the court acted precipitously in lifting the gag order, robbing authorities and community leaders of the opportunity to resolve their differences away from the limelight.
The tabloid then sought and obtained a comment from Hadassah hospital. Subsequent coverage by the press emphasized that the family involved was from an insular anti-Zionist haredi sect - Toldot Aharon. Coming on the heels of the so-called Taliban mother from Ramat Beit Shemesh and several other instances of child abuse among the ultra-Orthodox, the haredi angle to the Munchausen Syndrome story grabbed the headlines and wouldn't let go.
SO THERE are two issues here. One is whether the right to privacy of the suspect - who is also allegedly mentally ill - was violated; the other is whether the haredi angle was overplayed.
Should Israel's 1981 Privacy Protection Law and 1996 Patients' Rights Law have shielded the presumed MSP mother from having her condition exposed to public scrutiny? While her name hasn't been published, her identity is known within her own neighborhood. [...]