Mario Araña Suárez
Fecha Publicación: 26/02/2007
Área temática: Psiquiatría general .
Tipo de trabajo: Comunicación
En su desarrollo histórico, la conducta de dar muerte al propio hijo, ha logrado su reconocimiento en el ámbito forense como un delito vinculado a circunstancias psicopatológicas; a pesar de la abundancia de ‘modelos’ explicativos, a partir del análisis de los motivos del crimen, principalmente. y no siempre definidos con precisión científica.
En el presente trabajo, a partir del libro de Geoffrey McKee (2006), Why Mothers Kill, A Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook, subdividimos nuestras consideraciones en siete apartados que mostramos a continuación; resultan imprescindibles, a nuestro juicio, para comprender la totalidad de un fenómeno, el filicidio-infanticidio, como conducta asesina impactante en el trabajo cotidiano clínico y forense, psicológico. Al finalizar este recorrido de siete puntos fundamentales que ofrecemos para su consideración, pretendemos estar en disposición de contemplar el filicidio, desde una perspectiva integradora, comprensiva, transcultural, e interdisciplinar, del infanticidio y el filicidio, como conducta asesina, compleja.
Palabras clave: Filicidio, Infanticidio, Conducta Asesina-----
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Para un modelo explicativo del filicidio como conducta asesina.
(A comprenhensive view of a morderous behavior: filicide, infanticide, neonaticide. )
Mario Araña Suárez*.
* Clinical and Forensic Psychology, Investigator ; Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological
Treatments. University of La laguna, Tenerife, Canary Island, Spain. Scientific Society ACAPI-PSICONDEC, Spain.
Book reviews: Why Mothers kill, A
Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook, by Geoffrey McKee. Oxford University Press, 2006. 290 pp. ISBN 13
PALABRAS CLAVE: Filicidio, Infanticidio, conducta Asesina.
(KEYWORDS: Filicide, Infanticide, Neonaticide, Murderous behavior. )
En su desarrollo histórico, la conducta de dar muerte al propio hijo, ha logrado su reconocimiento en el
ámbito forense como un delito vinculado a circunstancias psicopatológicas; a pesar de la abundancia de
`modelos' explicativos, a partir del análisis de los motivos del crimen, principalmente. y no siempre
definidos con precisión científica. En el presente trabajo, a partir del libro de Geoffrey McKee (2006),
Why Mothers Kill, A Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook, subdividimos nuestras consideraciones en siete
apartados que mostramos a continuación; resultan imprescindibles, a nuestro juicio, para comprender la
totalidad de un fenómeno, el filicidio-infanticidio, como conducta asesina impactante en el trabajo
cotidiano clínico y forense, psicológico. Al finalizar este recorrido de siete puntos fundamentales que
ofrecemos para su consideración, pretendemos estar en disposición de contemplar el filicidio, desde una
perspectiva integradora, comprensiva, transcultural, e interdisciplinar, del infanticidio y el filicidio, como
conducta asesina, compleja.
In its historical development, the behavior to give death to the own son, has obtained its recognition in
the forensic scope like a tie crime to psychopatological circumstances; in spite of the abundance of
`explanatory models\', from the analysis of the reasons for the crime, mainly. And not always defined
accurately scientist. In the present revision, from the book of Geoffrey McKee (2006), Why Mothers Kill,
To Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook, we subdivided our considerations in seven sections that we
showed next; they are essential, in our opinion, to understand the totality of a phenomenon, the
filicide-infanticide, like impressive killer behavior in the clinical and forensic, psychological work. When
finalizing this route of seven fundamental points that we offer for your consideration, we try to be at
readiness to contemplate filicide, from an integrating perspective, comprehensive, transscultural, and to
interdisciplinary, of the infanticide and filicide, like a killer, a complex behavior.
When carrying out an historical point of view, we found that the filicide phenomenon is rooted in
different cultures, religions, and societies, strongly; a behavior that also we found in the animal world.
In its historical development, the behavior to give death to the own son, has obtained its recognition
in the forensic scope like a tie crime to psychopatological circumstances; in spite of the abundance of
`explanatory models', from the analysis of the reasons for the crime, mainly. And not always defined
In the present revision, from the book of Geoffrey McKee (2006), Why Mothers Kill, To Forensic
Psychologist´s Casebook, we subdivided our considerations in seven sections that we showed next;
they are essential, in our opinion, to understand the totality of a phenomenon, the filicide-infanticide,
like impressive killer behavior in the clinical and forensic, psychological work.
From the historical origins, to the present denomination, the social variables that act like determining
factors of this behavior, the paper granted to the direct author of the crime, the psychological
classifications propose like explanatory models from the forensic scope, the empirical matrix able to
detect the conducts of advance warning to the killer act, as well as an analysis of the preventive
considerations, that forensic psychology offers to the rest of the disciplines and social institutions, for
the understanding of filicide like a behavior, killer, but, from now on, predictable.
Of the book Why Mothers Kill, Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook, McKee (2006), in this revision, we
showed, the last contributions conducted to the study of filicide, from the scope of clinical and forensic
When finalizing this route of seven fundamental points that we offer for your consideration, we try to
transscultural, and to interdisciplinary, of the infanticide and filicide, like a killer, a complex behavior.
From `Patria Potestas' to `Infanscaedere'
The behavior of killing one´s own child, filicide, is present in the wild animal world for example,
mammals and birds -.
In the history of the human being, this behavior appears deeply rooted and associated to factors of
supernatural superstition, in two ways: children sacrifice and infanticide.
Thus, we can find this universal behavior in every culture: in the Christian Bible Deuteronomios 22. 4
-, in the Koran XVII:38 -, in the primitive cultures of Bolivian Indians, in savage regions of
California, in Greenland, Asia, . . . , or in the Germanic legal world, the `munt' institution. Though it can be practised by both parents, we find that, since the Ancient Roman Law, among the
functions of Pater Familias as Patria Potestas -, it includes the `execratio' : possibility to deny, to kill
directly, or authorization to punish the son till his death.
A practice that with the Emperor Trajano and later with the Emperor Adriano was modified, specifying
that this `patria potestas', is a `pietate debet, non in a atrocitate consistere'; till the Emperor
Constantine ( year 1065), established as a crime, the parricide: to give death to a descendant.
The infanticide reaches its recognition of crime in the XVIII century in Europe, with the expansion of
Christian Humanism, as `infanscaedere'; in the field of Anglosaxon Law from rules such as An Act to
Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Batard Children (1624), Offenses Against the Person Act
(1828), Infanticide Act (1922), Infant Life Preservation Act (1929), Infanticide Act (1938), among
Thus, the `infanscaedere', needs, in a legal level, an ended purpose or deceit in the typified murderous
behaviour, with different penalty, depending on the psychical health state given to the mother; for
example life imprisonment in Infant Life Preservation Act (1929), or to extenuate the penalty in
Infanticide Act (1938), if she is mentally unbalanced as a consequence of lactation or birth.
Although for authors, such as Cesar Beccaria (XVIII century), the infanticide should always remain
unpunished, because every sentence is ` an unnecessary incentive to the murderous alternative
selected by the mother of the victim', the differences in the legal, criminal, classification are nowadays
between different States USA.
In this historical evolution, we find- in our opinion- a transscultural contamination of the concept,
filled with legal, cultural and religious considerations, and the reason to assign the infanticide - even
nowadays in many dictionaries and encyclopaedia, for the murderous behaviour of the mother, or
widely, of the maternal grandparents.
In the book Why Mothers kill, A Forensic Psychologist´s Casebook (McKee, 2006), we find a
perspective focused in the murderous behavior of the mother, and based besides in the age of the
killed child; but, the death of children at an early age, infanticide, is a phenomenon that is seen in
different epidemiologycal investigations with high rates in fathers (McKee, Shea, 1998), or similar
between father and mothers.
Even like a behavior not exclusively filicide: infanticide executed by children, described in Adelson
(1972); or infanticide perpetrated by strangers as a consequence of sexual abuse or kidnapping.
Therefore, in our opinion, the difference between Filicide, Infanticide, Neonaticide, just depending on
the age of the child or the sex of the murderer, is the starting point that limits the needed
multidimensional scientific approach to the general phenomenon infanticide-, giving an incomplete
understanding of the death caused to children.
Like can be deduced from the historical evolution we have mention, the infanticide- in human beings
-, is a phenomenon that needs to be located in the social, cultural, familiar, religious, health and legal
context of the society, where it is produced and analysed to be understood.
Among the developed countries, different researches situate to the United States as one of the places
with a higher infanticide rate, when comparing between countries, and it goes worse with the
recognition of unequal health systems, different law and jurisprudence.
From a macro-level, macro-social perspective, the religious, health and legal customs in a country
form processes of ideological, social and culturally generalised influence. And it determines an
epidemiologycal and social phenomenon such as the infanticide, which has differences between
States, in the United States, considering its law and jurisprudence.
Inside this general culture of a country, the familiar structure, the investments applied to social and
health programs, the female job rates, the history of inadequate wars, among other factors, they
appear longitudinally related, for example, with the infanticide and non- wished pregnancies rates in
teenagers and youngsters.
It has been considered like this since old times, when the conception of motherhood, the paper
assigned to the female, and her honour, or the destruction of the progeny killing the descendants or
even the wife-, have been related with the economic survival, the morality and the believes, the roll of
manliness, showing a persistent discrimination towards the female, continually through the life cycle,
as the differences of gender in child death demonstrate, at a planetary level ( Fuse, Crenshaw, 2006).
Perpetrator of the crime
The majority of the different models suggested to explain the filicide phenomenon are centred in the
behaviour of the mother, and mainly analysed in the forensic and criminological field.
However, in the evidence analysis of the epidemiologycal data, the characteristics of place, time and
space also determine the size of the rates and the number of cases.
We check, for example, that the analysis of the filicide behavior in mothers comes, in general, from
psychiatric and forensic samples. Where, fathers are not usually interviewed.
In the paternal filicide, we frequently find that the fathers commit suicide after killing their wives and
Therefore, to affirm that mothers `act alone' (McKee, pag. 20) without controlling explicitly the
simulation, dissimulation and deceit processes, in this forensic contexts, not even the anthropological
roots of infanticide, specially the cultural, religious, legislative, legal, social and familiar factors we
understand- it can get to be an excessive simplification of the filicide phenomenon.
Classification in models
We disagree with Mckee (2006) page 27 from his book Why Mothers Kill, a forensic psychologist´s
casebook-, in the idea that it was d´Orban (1979), who did the first model of maternal filicide.
Although, McKee (2006) mentions, in his bibliography, the work of Lewis, Scout and Bunce (2003),
they demonstrate that it was precisely Resnik (1970) from the categorization reflected by Gibson &
Klin (1961) about homicide -, who suggested the first model of maternal filicide; the model of
d´Orban (1979) shows an almost absolute similarity to it.
In the historical and synoptic chart of page number 29, McKee (2006) places Resnick (1969) inside
the `modes' of maternal filicide; when in fact this suggestion from Resnick belongs to his paper of
It is not accurate to forget the proposal of Bourget and Gagne (2002) in the analysis of the `models' of
maternal filicide, specially when McKee (2006) indicates among the bibliography of Why Mothers kill, a
forensic psychologist´s casebook, the study of these authors, Bourget and Gagne; who, precisely,
show in their `model' of maternal filicide, the presence of mental illness, with or without abuse in the
consumption of substances.
It is relevant that McKee (2006) includes a new category Antisocial Psychopathic which is not
described in previous classificatory descriptions, taking an element that proves a certain wickedness
and social transgression in the maternal filicide behaviour, an aspect hidden in other authors.
The introduction of this Psychopathic category, lets open the possibility to analyse the moral, as a
central factor, that could define the presence or absence of filicide, in situations and contexts which
However, his `model' starts from a main consideration based on the filicide reasons, extensively
questioned by Lewis, Scout and Bunce (2003)- cited in the book, as we said- for his lack of reliability,
subjective character, contamination between categories and retrospective analysis of the possible
cause of death.
Psychotic/depressed category, which was not exposed before specifically, by other authors; in my
opinion, it is a correct answer.
Although, he subdivides this category in delusional, impulsive and suicidal, if we make the most of this
Psychotic/depressed denomination, we can suggest the debate about diverse subtypes of depression
with or without psychotic symptoms- separated from the rest of the psychosis. Thus, we could
question the altruistic psychotic symptoms, differentiating them form non psychotic altruism- where,
the cause of evident suffering in the child is really objective by any effect-.
But, we continue lacking a true explanatory model for filicide and maternal filicide; the proposals done
till the moment are descriptive classifications, provisionally formulated by different authors, but not
explanatory and not sufficiently contrasted with scientific objectivity able to permit the generalization
of the current classifications.
In the same way, there is the necessity to point out the duality in the diagnose or the presence of
comorbility from the information obtained by combination of the multiaxial information. The precise
siting in the Diagnose Manual, of the puerperal psychosis or the postpartum depression, as organic
disorders or endotoxic psychosis, would hep to this clarification.
But, the great satisfaction, the true happiness that Geoffrey McKee (2006) gives us in this book Why
Mothers Kill, a forensic psychologist´s casebook, is analysed in the next section.
Maternal filicide risk matrix
The main contribution of Geoffrey McKee (2006)- in our opinion- is the Filicide Risk Matrix, which
permit to defeat, definitely, one of the myths assigned to filicide: its apparent hazardous and
He points out, in a fortunate way- in our opinion- the necessity to consider the Risk Factors associated
to filicide, starting with the identification of the signal behavior, which advice us of the probability of
occurrence of a filicide target behavior.
The sources of risk factor can happen in a simultaneous way, from the person, the family or the
He does not mention specifically the culture, religion or moral, but he insists in the necessity to
consider the attitudes and expectations- not only in the moment of pregnancy or birth, but also
through the attitudinal longitudinal analysis-, which reflects in the same way, a general evaluation of
every variable considered in previous investigations: age, intelligence, education, emotional status,
trauma history, medical status, maternal attitudes, mother as parent, father as parent, marital-family,
financial status, infant´ s temperament, - among others-, in different moments: pre-pregnancy,
pregnancy, early postpartum, late postpartum or postinfancy.
Against the risk factors, the protective: characteristics, conditions, circumstances associated to a
decrease of the probability of the target behaviour, in an individual, familiar and situational level, in
the five previous moments; and considered, each of them, in its three types of measure: as absence
of a risk factor, the opposite extreme of a continuum, a middle range of a factor.
This matrix of factors, each one with his own components, allows us to find-correctly- the signal
behaviour, which were not taken into account before the filicide target behavior.
Therefore, it means a correct answer, that surpasses the highest point achieved in previous
investigations, to offer a tool, an instrument, the Filicide Risk Matrix, useful for all filicide types, not
only for the maternal.
This retrospective analysis, done by the author through decades of professional intervention, goes
through the forensic field, to become an instrument of general public health. It will require the
intervention of multiple professionals related with health, motherhood, masculinity and childhood field.
The Filicide Risk Matrix permits to prove the existent risks in each moment studied: pre-pregnancy,
pregnancy, early postpartum, late postpartum or postinfancy. In each of these moments different
professionals can benefit from this tool that Geoffrey McKee (2006)offers: familiar doctors,
psychiatrists, criminologists, social workers, pediatricians, psychologists, gynecologists, . . .
This book is useful for any professional, as a source of reflection and help, which points out the
necessity to pay attention, in ach situation previous to the filicide target behaviour, as it specifies
continually through the 19 real cases analysed by McKee in Why mothers kill, a forensic
Risk intervention points
In chapter 5, Primary, Secondary and Terciary Risk Prevention Programmes, offers a series of
necessary communitarian measures to prevent filicide, considered in its complexity, level of difficulty,
people who should be implicated, and temporal duration, among other variables analysed, from the
situational analysis of the individual case.
Form the 19 analysed cases in the book, through the last 26 years as forensic psychologist in different
States USA, McKee (2006) does not reflect the exact year in each filicide case, and he does not make
groups by historical periods, not even for concrete States. Information that would give complementary
data of important consideration, for the final goal this book pursue: to alert, for prevention.
Thus, we would reach a level of superior analysis that permits to evoke, the roll done by the
macro-social resources, elaborating concrete proposals, such as Macrolevel Predictorl, focused mainly,
as an example: in the 5% of pregnant women in United States, who wait till the end of the pregnancy
to look for prenatal medical care, or never look for it ( Children´s Defense Fund 1996). Analysing the
epidemiologycal patterns of child death ( Mathews& MacDorman, 2006), we find that for States, are
Alabama, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, the territories that
overcome in more than 2 percentage points the USA standard. For race, the American Indian
overcomes in more than 2. 5 points, and the black race doubles the USA average.
The death of children when they born is emphasize, specially in Mexican and non Hispanic mothers,
that reach the 90% of the deaths in mothers younger than 20. The Mexicans and non Hispanic white
women, in not married mothers, represent more than half of the total.
As a conclusion: mental health is not the central aspect to understand the filicide etiology as we find
in the book of McKee (2006), Why Mothers Kill, a forensic psychologist´s casebook.
Murders not only occurs for the circumstances of the mental state of the mothers, ; but for a
combination of factors where the social and personal isolation of the mother, and other macro-social
factors also suggested in the first part of this paper, act together favouring the appearance of this
In USA, it would require a reflection oriented to deny and the criminal penalty, as it exists, combining
a coherent preventing action that allows to think about and act over the model of motherhood,
masculinity, social assistance and respect to life, that society, law, jurisprudence, culture, moral,
religion and economy permit.
From Why Mothers Kill, a forensic psychologist´s casebook, this way is already shown.
Adelson, L. (1972). The battering child. J. A. M. A. , 223, 159-161.
Children´s Defense Fund (1996). The state of America´s children yearbook, 1996. Washington, DC:
Fuse, K, Crenshaw, E. M. , (2006). Gender imbalance in infant mortality: a cross-national study of
social structure and female infanticide. Social Sciences and Medicine, vol. 62, 360-374.
Lewis, C. F. , Bunce, SC. (2003). Filicidal Mothers and the impact of Psychosis on Maternal Filicide.
J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law, 31:459-470
Mathews T. J. , MacDorman MF (2006). Infant mortality statistics from 2003 period linked birth/infant
death data set. National vital statistics reports, vol. 54, nº 16. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for
Mcee, GR. (2006). Why Mothers Kill, a forensic psychologist´s casebook. . Oxford University Press,
McKee, GR, Shea, SJ (1998). Maternal Filicida: a cross-national comparison. Journal of Clinical
Psyhcology, vol 54 (5).