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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Lacey Spears

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Lacey Spears

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Lacey Spears-photo for Munchausen SyndromeLacey Spears is a 27-year-old mother who was sentenced to 20 years to life for fatally poisoning her son at Westchester Medical Center in New York. She was accused of putting a lethal amount of salt into her son’s feeding tube while he was in the hospital. Her defense team appealed the sentence, claiming she is innocent. The hospital is to blame, they say.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Lacey was labeled as having munchausen syndrome by proxy. The judge described her as mentally ill.  In this rare and fascinating (in a gruesome way), a person (usually a mother) deliberately makes another person ill. The motive is to gain sympathy and attention. It was named after Baron von Munchausen, an 18th-century German dignitary known for making up stories about his travels and experiences in order to get attention. “By proxy” indicates that a parent or other adult is fabricating or exaggerating symptoms in a child, not in himself or herself.

Mothers with Munchausen syndrome by proxy either have familiarity with the medical profession and know how to induce illness in a child or are able to gather this information from sources. The child’s symptoms may completely disappear when the mother is not present.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse. It can take many forms:

  • withholding food,
  • giving a child poison,
  • adding blood to the child’s urine or stool,
  • heating up thermometers to make it look like the child has a fever, or
  • causing a child to vomit or have diarrhea.

These actions result in the child needing a lot of medical attention: office visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, and tests. For example, in Garnett’s case, his mother claimed that he was hospitalized many times.

Lacey not only sought medical attention for her child, but she also developed a following for herself and child by using social media. She gained attention and sympathy from her audience by using a blog and pictures to share details and photos about her 5-year-old son, Garnett.

According to reports, Lacey called a friend while Garnett was dying in the hospital and asked her to get rid of one of the bags, she used to feed Garnett through a tube in his abdomen. The police later seized the bag and found a high concentration of sodium.

Diagnosing Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

The clues associated with Munchausen syndrome by proxy are subtle. The child has strange symptoms that don’t quite make sense. Healthcare professionals don’t automatically suspect a parent of causing a child to become ill. The mother portrays herself as caring and concerned and is able to manipulate the healthcare professionals. This syndrome often goes undiagnosed.

Healthcare providers who suspect a parent of Munchausen syndrome by proxy are required to report this form of child abuse. Unfortunately, a cornered mother may escalate her actions to prove her child is really sick. If the medical evidence is strong, Protective Services may need to remove the child from the home.

There are no winners in this dreadful condition. Healthcare providers may feel guilty for not intervening sooner. Children may be irrevocably injured. Parents may repeat the behavior with other children. The most notorious mother with Munchausen by proxy is Marybeth Tinning, who was convicted of killing 9 children.

Med League provides medical expert witnesses to trial lawyers. Please call us at (908)788-8227 or contact us today to discuss your next case.

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