Thursday, July 23, 2009

Privacy and sensitity towards Chareidim?


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. [...]


  1. Being mentally ill isn't a crime but removing a child's feeding tube is, as is starving him to half of what should be his normal weight for his age. If you mental illness makes you dangerous to others, then the hospital is well within both its rights and yours to report to the authorities that you are harming another person.

    Would this have been less so if the victim had been an elderly parent instead of a child? If this woman had removed her ailing Father's feeding tube, would it be any different? No, not at all. But the Chereidi are acting as if this woman has some sort of right to starve the boy because he is her son. Parenthood doesn't give anybody absolute authority over a child - the state has a vested interest to make sure the child is not being neglected or abused just as much as if the victim had been a old nursing home patient instead of a tiny little boy.

    It is the fact that this woman - indeed, her whole community - denies there is anything wrong with her actions (caught on tape) that makes her clearly unrepentant and dangerous to the child and other children. That is why the police were and should have been called - there is no free pass for nutcases who harm people just because they are parents. Someone who doesn't cooperate must be removed from a position of being able to do harm, and if they won't do so willingly, then police action is justified.

    If this woman had been doing this to YOUR father at a nursing home, you'd be screaming off with her head. So would most of those people burning and protesting.

  2. It is the fact that this woman - indeed, her whole community - denies there is anything wrong with her actions (caught on tape) that makes her clearly unrepentant and dangerous to the child and other children.
    This is not accurate. Aside from Rav Sternbuch - Rabbi Pappenheim of the Eidah has stated they are waiting to see the evidence before deciding. See Jonathan Rosenblum's article that I posted which is based on a report in Mishpacha magazine. It is reasonable to assume they are not the only ones.

    Regarding this tape - it is much reported but apparently it has not been seen

    In addition no one has said that a parent has the right to abuse a child or an adult.

    In sum the issue is not as you present it.


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