Mothers on trial: discourses of cot death and Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy

Fiona E. Raitt, M. Suzanne Zeedyk

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article explores some of the issues raised by Munchausenrsquos Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) and the relationship between medicine and law, specifically the discourses which feature in the courtroom portraying motherhood and expectations of parenting. These discourses are often hidden yet play a determining role in prosecutions for alleged maltreatment of children involving medically unexplained infant death syndrome. We offer a critique of MSbP and seek to unveil the assumptions about mothers, the parent predominantly affected by the 'diagnosis', and mothering that underlie the association of women accused of deliberating harming their children. We suggest such insights are valuable because although the syndrome has never acquired a clear medical or legal definition, it has had repeated appearances in the literature and courtroom over the last 25 years and has more recently attracted attention from government, health care practitioners, academics and the media. We explore these issues through an examination of two recent Court of Appeal decisions in England: those of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)257-278
    Number of pages22
    JournalFeminist Legal Studies
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2004


    • Child abuse
    • Cot death
    • Motherhood
    • Expert evidence
    • Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy
    • Sudden infant death syndrome


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