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Jewish World Review June 29, 2001/ 8 Tamuz, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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There is no excuse -- WHEN parents kill, burn or maim their children, my only commentary is that their fates in the next life, where there are no psychiatrist expert witnesses available, are sealed. There will be no rationalizations, justifications or equivocations. Those who have inflicted harm upon innocents must face a simple, "There is no excuse." Waco was no excuse for Timothy McVeigh's slaughter of children. Unrequited love and a tough childhood were not excuses for Susan Smith's cold-hearted abandonment of her children in a sinking car she drove into a lake. And psychosis, postpartum depression, and/or Haldol were no excuses for Andrea Pia Yates drowning her five children.

Generally such is sufficient analysis for the inexcusable. Also, a piece on inexcusable murder generates more hate mail than defense of Boy Scouts. However, in the Yates case, the interview with the father buried the needle on the weirdometer and has driven me to the keyboard. Tearless, Russell Yates stood on the front lawn of the home where his wife had killed their 5 children only 48 hours earlier and professed his love to her, via the cameras. It was an Al Roker Today show moment at the scene of a quintuple filicide. Why didn't he add, "Hi, Mom!" and wish Uncle Ned a Happy 85th?

The interviews and hand wringing over postpartum depression have been sights to behold. CNBC's in-house physician blamed the death of the five children on HMOs and their lack of treatment for mental illness without knowing whether Mrs. Yates had HMO care. Causation knows no limits in liberal land. The NEA will shortly blame the tragedy on home schooling and Patricia Ireland will shake her finger about stay-at-home moms.

The implications of this frenzy for those of us out here in urban sprawl are tremendous. Media devotion to postpartum depression causation has done to every new father in America what Fatal Attraction did to every married man in America in 1987: scared them spitless. New fathers have been staying home, calling and checking on wives and babies, and even putting in for maternity leaves themselves, fearful that postpartum depression will claim the lives of their children.

The handle on reality is as weak as the logic. The same media that incessantly claim that women can do anything men can do now etch the indelible image of women as psychotics with incurable and sudden onset diseases. They've touted PMS, menopause, perimenopause, and now postpartum syndromes. How can they also claim sex discrimination and glass ceilings? Who wants estrogen maniacs running a company? However, I have reversed my position on women in combat. This Yates detached cruelty is exactly what we need in front-line soldiers.

Marie Osmond just released her tales from the hormonal crypt and now the media tackle murder of innocents as one of the symptoms of baby blues. The baby boomer media, most of whom had trouble coping with one child and its cramp on their dinner reservations, now wish to exaggerate both the rate and cure for a temporary condition that is conquerable, and, in the grand scheme of life, inconsequential. Having a baby is physically taxing. When the child arrives, it doesn't appreciate the concept of sleep and will not learn to prefer it until it reaches the teen years. The teen still retains its affinity for staying up all night and sleeping all day. Hormones fly around after childbirth. It's rugged, but women have lived through it for centuries without drugs or filicide.

Underlying this excused murder theory is the ongoing media theme that we have no self-control. Physicians join in on the helpless human syndrome (HHS?) and everyone avoids passing judgment on bizarre actions with the syndrome/disease excuse.

For those of us who believe in our ultimate accountability, there is an accompanying and logical belief that within us is the capacity for self-control. Coverage of Andrea Yates presents a repeated term as commentary describes the blood-curdling scenario: a 7-year-old watching his mother drown his 6-month-old baby sister and then trying unsuccessfully to flee from his mother because he helplessly understood his fate. Everyone from medical personnel to police investigators to reporters has uttered the term "demons." "The demons that overpowered her." "The demons within."

There are indeed demons. They are the only explanation, but not an excuse, for this conduct. So long as there is a spirit within, there remains the power of conquest. But the media focus is on secular demons, not spiritual power. Their conclusion is that the demons are uncontrollable, even with 4 antidepressants.

They are wrong.

There is a healing power to which many of us subscribe. While it is faith-based, it trumps demons. But, this is a society that trembles at the very mention of G-d. As well it should. For when they have slaughtered, maimed and rampaged in the name of inner demons and excused it all at the altar of psychiatry, they will still be met with the next life commentary that surely befalls those who kill children, "There is no excuse."

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings