Vol. 5, No. 3, 1999 Page 5

Baby-stealing linked to post-seizure psychosis

Psychologist Craig McNulty and colleagues report on an intriguing case in which identifying the biological cause of a woman's bizarre and criminal behavior led to proper treatment that greatly reduced her danger to the community.

The 36-year-old woman, who exhibited seizures, borderline retardation, and aggressive behavior, had been hospitalized after multiple incidents in which she stole infants or children from their parents. Originally, McNulty et al. say, her problem was addressed as purely psychological-the consequence of her distress over her own inability to have children due to a hysterectomy. The hospital staff noted, however, that following a series of seizures, the woman's behavior became quite disturbed and she again began attempting to steal children while out on escorted leaves.

"At the time of each attack," McNulty and colleagues say, "Ms. A displayed a range of delusional beliefs which consisted of her being convinced that she had had a baby which had been taken away from her." During these episodes, Ms. A became convinced that her caretakers were jailers who had hidden her baby in a cupboard. She also experienced auditory hallucinations of a crying baby.

To investigate the possible connection between the patient's seizures and her behavior problems, the researchers graphed her behavior and orientation as they related to her seizure activity. "Observations illustrated that Ms. A's attempts at baby-snatching were directly related to the onset of seizure activity," they say, "the psychotic state being sustained for a number of days following the seizure, though with diminishing intensity."

McNulty et al. altered the patient's treatment plan to include the use of medication which better controlled her seizure-related behavior. In addition, they say, "Ms. A was given a clear explanation of the interrelation between her seizures, disorientation, and auditory hallucinations." As a result, they say, her delusional beliefs were significantly decreased and she was able to be monitored safely in a community setting.

"The identification of [post-seizure] psychosis in the case of Ms. A," McNulty et al. say, "allowed her past behavior and experiences to be rationally understood."

M. Elizabeth Gerard and colleagues recently reported (see related article, Crime Times, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 3, Page 2) on six cases similar to McNulty et al.'s. Like McNulty's patient, Gerard's subjects experienced repeated aggressive episodes, always within three days of a seizure. Gerard and colleagues noted that all of their patients were remorseful about their acts, and that five had no recollection of their aberrant behavior.


"Attempted child-stealing: post-ictal psychosis and psychological distress," Craig McNulty, Kamil Cahil, and Mar¡a B. Tom‚ de la Granja, Medicine, Science and the Law, Vol. 39, No. 2, 1999, pp. 146-152. Address: Craig McNulty, Care Perspectives, St. John's House, Diss, Norfolk IP22 1BA, UK.

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