A Meta-Synthesis of Filicide Classification Systems: Psychosocial and Psychodynamic Issues in Women Who Kill Their Children

Marie E. Mugavin


J Foren Nurs. 2005;1(2):65-72. 

In This Article

A Clinical Approach

Bourget & Bradford (1990) suggested a system of classification encompassing various types of clinical situations. The five major categories, extracted from the existing literature in combination with preliminary data gathered by the authors are:

  1. Pathological filicide, including altruistic motives and extended homicide-suicide.

  2. Accidental filicide including battered child syndrome.

  3. Retaliating filicide.

  4. Neonaticide, in particular the unwanted child.

  5. Paternal filicide. (Paternal filicide is expounded upon from Resnick's (1969) work.)

Unique to this framework is extended suicide-homicide, a concept related to altruistic motives (Bourget & Labelle, 1992). West (1965 as cited by Bourget & Labelle, 1992) suggested that in the course of depressive illness, suicide-homicide is most likely to occur when suicide risk is high. Some scientists believe that identification with the child may contribute to the conversion of suicide to filicide and postulated that child murder in psychotic mothers is primarily an expression of suicidal tendencies (Bourget & Labelle, 1992). Bourget & Bradford (1987) presented the case of a woman with a positive family history of affective disorder, suicide, and filicide. Because there was a history of familial double filicide, the question was raised of hereditary influences in the crime. The following case study underscores such an example.

The 43-year-old mother had a complicated medical history including, but not limited to pelvic pain, autoimmune histamine release syndrome, familial spherocytosis, suicide attempts, a hysterectomy, and oophorectomy. She began to complain of varying symptoms and to seek frequent medical attention after the birth of her second child. There was a positive family history of major affective disorder: her father was suicidal and suffered from major depression, her paternal grandfather committed suicide by drowning, and her paternal grandmother committed suicide. Two paternal uncles committed suicide by shooting themselves and a paternal aunt was responsible for the filicide of her two adopted children.

Six weeks before the filicide, the mother demonstrated suicidal ideation and had purchased a shotgun. She had a psychiatric emergency evaluation but was not admitted. The mother believed she had an incurable disease due to a delusional misinterpretation of information given by her doctor related to familial spherocytosis. She shot her 7- and 8-year-old children, convinced that they were also dying from an incurable illness and were likely to suffer as she was. Apprehended shortly after the shootings but before she was able to overdose herself, she was found guilty by reason of insanity on two counts of first-degree murder. After undergoing 4 years of intensive therapy and psychopharmacologic treatment for major affective disorder, she made her first visit to the grave sites of her two children.


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