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Unread July 18th, 2004, 08:44 PM
William Reid William Reid is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Texas
Posts: 105
Default Re: Suicide & Filicide

The Yates case reflects both a fairly simple legal question and a fairly complex standard-of-care issue. In her criminal case, the only question to be answered was (just about verbatim from the Texas insanity defense statute) "When she killed her children, was she suffering from a mental disease or defect that caused her either (1) not to know what she was doing or (2) not to know that it was wrong?" The criminal trial had little or nothing to do with her diagnosis per se (except that she had to have one) or her psychiatric care (except insofar as it helped determine the answer to the above question). In the end, the jury was not convinced that she met that narrow criterion. They then had to find her guilty of capital murder (there was no intermediate choice), for which there are only two possible sentences (an extremely long prison sentence or death; she received the former). The case is being appealed.

Texas's insanity defense statute is conservative (hard to meet), but not unusual among the states (it's very similar to that in a dozen other states). Texas juries are often conservative in awarding an insanity defense, particularly when children have been killed. The only recent exception I know of is the Laney case, in which a seriously mentally ill mother was acquitted by reason of insanity for killing two of her children and maiming the third. The Laney case involved several experts, two of whom had also testified in the Yates case (Dietz and Resnick); all of them -- for prosecution, defense, and an independent expert for the judge (me) -- agreed that Laney had been legally insane.

Back to your point: Did her doctors do anything wrong?. That's not an easy question (and may be in litigation). The standard of care requires all kinds of things for people with Ms. Yates's disorder and symptoms, depending on lots of variables. Those who had access to her medical records (which pretty much became public during her criminal trial) and to direct information about/from her family, church, and clinicians (some of which became public and some didn't) agree that her clinical treatment was not the only factor in the downhill course of her symptoms, and in the eventual deaths of her children. There were a number of family and social factors that interfered with her clinical care. Whether the clinicians' work was below the standard and, if so, was enough of a "cause" to merit a malpractice verdict against the clinicians, remains to be seen (if indeed a suit has been filed).
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