An Australian mother, 22, pleaded guilty yesterday to inflicting grievous bodily harm on her 4-year-old daughter. The woman, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of her child, remains in custody as she awaits sentencing from a Queensland court.
Over a 10-month period beginning in July 2012, the Gold Coast mother poisoned her daughter with chemotherapy drugs, which she purchased online, according to The Australian. South Eastern Region detectives and the State Crime Operation Command's Child Safety and Sexual Crime Group ran a joint investigation of the woman who has been in custody since the discovery of her crime in April.
Hoax Extended to Social Media
All while her daughter suffered as doctors subjected her to countless tests in order to determine the cause of her mysterious illness — initially they believed the child suffered from an auto-immune disease or leukemia — the mother documented the child’s progress on a Facebook page, which has since been dismantled. The page, which was followed by 7,000 ‘friends,’ according to News.com.au, featured photographs of the sick child as well as details of the mother’s fundraising efforts. (The mother had created a separate donation website.)
Among the posts was this one, in which the mother describes a pediatric oncology ward: “(It is) a world no parent should ever have to see . . . a world where you are woken each night by the screams of children in pain . . . where you can hear children vomiting from the other side of the ward, retching so hard because they have nothing else to throw up. I HATE THIS PLACE. IF I COULD RUN AWAY FROM THIS PLACE I'D RUN A THOUSAND MILES TO BE AWAY FROM IT!”
In her many social media posts, the mother recorded the child undergoing a bone marrow biopsy, bleeding from the nose, losing weight, losing all her hair, among other horrors. Use of unnecessary chemotherapy drugs can damage organs, such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. In Feb. 2013, the confounded doctors diagnosed severe aplastic anemia, a disorder in which the body's bone marrow doesn't make enough new blood cells.
After the mother was taken into custody in April, Courier Mail News reported that the child was recovering in the Brisbane Royal Children's Hospital and was under the care of her grandparents; it is unclear what her condition is today. The mother, though guilty, possibly suffers from a mental disorder.
Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy
Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder in which someone pretends to be sick or gets sick on purpose. Individuals with Munchausen syndrome not only describe fantasy symptoms, but they may go so far as to seriously harm themselves in order to gain attention and concern from others. In 1951, Richard Asher named the disorder after Baron Münchhausen, an infamous 18th-century narrator of exaggerated exploits.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) is a related form of mental disorder in which a person pretends an individual he or she is caring for has a physical or mental illness when the person is not really sick. Whether the individual — it is most often the mother of a child under 6 years old, though the cared-for person can be an adult — inflicts actual harm (as in the case of the Australian mother) or simply pretends the child is sick, Munchausen syndrome by proxy is considered a form of child abuse.
The cause of MSP is unknown and generally it is a rare and poorly understood mental disorder. It is generally discovered when a child's symptoms do not fit together well or when symptoms improve at the hospital but reappear at home. Often, the parent may be in the health care field and may appear ‘too helpful’ to staff. In some more benign cases, blood samples will not match the child’s blood type and are clearly counterfeit; in other cases, doctors directly discover the presence of unaccountable drugs or chemicals in blood, stool, or urine samples.