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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in Parents

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) is a condition where a caregiver induces mental and physical health problems to their patients. The condition is based on pure deception, with the caregiver in question even exaggerating the extent of pain and discomfort that the patient feels. Initially, the first thought that comes to mind when one hears a caregiver is the medical nurse or doctor. Thus, this is the perception earlier held about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. This idea was bashed by the study and detailed research done on the condition.

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Munchausen syndrome by proxy is often confused with the Munchausen syndrome a condition that makes sick people exaggerate their symptoms. In this case, no one is inflicting pain on the ill person, unlike in MSbP. In addition to this, the people who suffer from Munchausen syndrome harm themselves, not others. According to criminal law, a person with this condition is, thus, not a criminal. He or she will most likely be convicted as a mentally ill person. Even though Munchausen syndrome by proxy has been experienced since time immemorial, it was only until recently that health organizations accepted it as a health condition. In addition to this, law enforcers and the justice system have just recently accepted the difference between this type of abuse and other child abuses. Initially, sudden death of infants would be deemed unfortunate, and when worst got to worst, the mother of the infant would be prosecuted for murder. However, with more research on the condition, the legal system has become more lenient in offenders.

Through research, it was realized that Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is a condition related to parents, especially mothers, and their children. Ashraf and Thevasagayam (2014) disclose that there are mothers who have exaggerated, and to some extent, induced mental illness in their children. According to the law, MSbP is a form of child abuse, thus, punishable by the court system. However, it has been very difficult for law enforcers to identify and determine this type of abuse in families. In order to limit the number of children that go through this extensive form of neglect and ill-treatment, law enforcers and hospitals have teamed up and hospitals are required to report any suspicious incidences (Criddle, 2010). The severity of MSbP cannot be overstated. In fact, as Pankratz (2010) reveals, there are high profile cases where mothers have killed their children in disturbing circumstances. Indeed, there are cases where mothers have been declared to have MSbP, which led to the loss of a child through sudden infant death syndrome. Many women have been tried and convicted of murder due to this condition. It suffices to mention that women that have this condition usually want more attention from the health caregiver. It might be due to past experiences where a parent realized that his or her child received less attention as their symptoms were not critical. Hunt (2014) argues that to any parent, their child has to be treated first, and with the best care possible. The parent always wants the doctors and nurses to be present until such a time when their child is no longer ill. If this does not happen, some parents exaggerate the symptoms to get the attention. It is also important to mention that such mothers can even go to extremes and poison or starve their children so that their condition is deemed dire, and they get more attention in the hospital.

As mentioned, it is very difficult to identify this kind of child abuse. However, as Pankratz (2010) reveals, many practitioners and law enforcers have come up with ways of identifying such cases. The first sign of MSbP is premeditated torture and harm. Many other forms of child abuse have been associated with reactions to behaviors. For instance, if a child breaks a glass, the mother beats him. It is the child’s behavior that provoked the abuse. However, with MSbP, there is little if any provocation. In many instances, the child does not act naughty and may just be a bit sick. In addition to this, the victim is always in the hospital for one reason or another. Hunt (2014) asserts that health care providers usually make the situation worse by not reporting such incidences. They may also be unaware of the abuse but by engaging in the constant treatment of the child, they encourage the parent to use this method to get the attention they think their child deserves. In the same note, the exaggeration of the symptoms might confuse the healthcare giver such that they perceive that the health condition of the child is abnormal. They will then be morally obliged to find other alternative ways of treating the child. These alternative methods might in turn make the child’s health deteriorate. Apart from this, the amount of money that the parents will use in the treatment of an inexistent condition can be high.

From the research done on MSbP, I realize that I did not know much about the condition. The first thing learned is that many of the people that suffer the conditions are parents. Thus, the victims of the abuse are their children. In addition to this, I have also learned that healthcare providers can enhance MSbP. It makes more sense that law enforcers have partnered with hospitals to report any case they find suspicious. For instance, a child who is brought in every week with symptoms, which do not make sense, and physically harmed might be a victim of MSbP. In the same breadth, the engagement of the parents and the healthcare givers especially in treating the child can encourage the bad behavior. The health facility will spend hours doing research on the inexistent symptoms, treating the wrong condition and in turn putting the child in more danger. I have not had the chance to interact with anyone suffering from MSbP or anyone who was a victim of MSbP.

There are numerous reasons why healthcare givers find it difficult to diagnose the problem. One such difficulty is the fact that the child may be suffering from a health condition. For instance, the baby might have a stomachache, and the mother decides to poison him or her to make the condition worse. Therefore, doctors might test the baby’s vomit and find traces of poison, thereby, treating that particular condition. However, the cause of the initial stomachache might be unknown and might go untreated. This creates a significant health problem. Similarly, here are no guidelines that pinpoint the condition. The parent can be very loving and caring towards the child, making it difficult for the healthcare providers to note the abuse. In the same vein, diagnosing the problem can only be highlighted through the condition of the child. The mother will not tell the nurses what she did, and so it is up to the nurses to examine the child and determine the abuse. It is very difficult to do this as many of the children that suffer, as victims of MSbP are usually less than 22 months old.

These challenges make it very difficult to investigate the condition. The only way of examining the situation is through accusing any parent whose child appears to fall sick, or get physically harmed in disturbing ways. Moreover, the healthcare providers are advised to carefully determine all cases of injury and mental disturbances that a child might experience. It might be difficult for a child to report his or her parent, while other might be too young to speak. Thus, the injuries and other indicators have to be carefully analyzed to determine whether the child has been abused.

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In conclusion, a lot has been learned about the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy condition. First of all, it is a condition that is mainly experienced by mothers, with their babies being the victims. There are mothers that tend to exaggerate and even induce illness in infants in order to get more attention from healthcare givers. Currently, the law depicts MSbP as a crime and charges it as one as well. However, the women involved can also be perceived to be mentally ill, as no one in their right mind would harm their child. In addition to this, there are instances where victims have died due to the physical and mental torture that they have undergone. The condition is very difficult to treat, and this makes it equally difficult to diagnose.

References

Ashraf, N., & Thevasagayam, M. S. (2014). Munchausen syndrome by proxy presenting as hearing loss. Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 128(6), 540-542

Criddle, L. (2010). Pediatric care. Monsters in the closet: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Critical Care Nurse, 30(6), 46-56

Hunt, K. (2014). Safeguarding children — the need for vigilance. Practice Nurse, 44(6), 18-22.

Pankratz, L. (2010). Persistent problems with the “separation test” in Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 38(3), 307-32

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