Munchausen by Proxy: A Disturbing Psychiatric Disorder
Hollywood portrays Baron Munchausen as a comedic character but the medical syndromes that bear his name aren’t very funny.
People fake illnesses all the time. To get out of work, to avoid going to some event, to miss a test they haven’t studied for, or just because they want to lay around and take a day doing nothing. Everyone has called in sick. But then there are others who fake illnesses in order to undergo medical testing and procedures and perhaps to garner the attention that being perceived as ill will bring their way. Munchausen syndrome is where someone fakes illnesses in order to visit with physicians and hospitals and undergo testing and sometimes very dangerous treatment, even surgery. After all, doctors listen to the patient and then evaluate them for the possible illness, or illnesses, that could be underlying their complaints. As a physician, distinguishing true complaints from confabulations isn’t always easy. The tendency is, of course, to accept what the patient says as the truth and move on from there. Patients with Munchausen Syndrome often are very talented liars and are also well-versed in the illness they are faking.
Munchausen by proxy takes this to an entirely different level. Here, a parent will manufacture complaints for a child and then subject them to medical testing and treatment. Even worse, they will actually do harm to the child, sometimes even adding poisons to their food so that they will become ill and require medical intervention. What does the parent gain from this? It’s not as simple as it seems but for sure one thing is they gain the attention and sympathy of the child’s caregivers. This is an extremely complex psychological problem that is sad on so many levels.
The recent case of Megan Gee and her four-year-old son is one of the worst I’ve read about. In four years he had 227 interactions with medical professionals and institutions. Unbelievable.
A few years ago on Crime and Science Radio, Jan Burke and I interviewed Beatrice Yorker, an expert in the field. Listen in and check out the accompanying links for further study.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Article: https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/crime/article235483297.html
Munchausen Syndrome WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/munchausen-syndrome#1
Munchausen By Proxy Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/munchausen-syndrome-by-proxy
Beatrice Yorker Interview: http://www.dplylemd.com/csr-past-details/beatrice-crofts.html