I've just been over to A Tangled Web, where I read about one of the most disgusting stories of state interference in the life of a decent, law-abiding, British citizen that it has ever been my misfortune to hear of. The citizen in question is Fran Lyon, a pregnant twenty-two year old, and the act of state interference is the decision of social workers to remove her child from her, the very moment it is born. Why are they doing this? Well, it's not because she has a track record of abusing children: indeed, it's not because of anything she's done at all. Nor is it because she is clearly and indisputably incapable of raising a child - rather, she is an intelligent woman, with a degree in neuroscience. No, the reason is, that a doctor who has never met her thinks that she may in the future suffer from a psychiatric condition which doesn't exist, even though other doctors (who actually have met her) have said that she would be a perfectly good mother.
Specifically, the physician, Dr Martin Ward Platt (pronounce the last part like a Japanese, and you've got it about right) - who, incidentally, is a paediatrician rather than a psychiatrist - claims that it is possible she might develop Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP): a condition in which a person with influence over another induces in that person an illness, or belief in an illness, in order to gain control over that person and attention from others. His evidence for this appears to extend as far as the fact that six years ago she had an eating disorder and self-harmed. Now, to me a prediction that she might develop this condition, based on such very limited evidence, is in itself an unacceptably weak basis for removing the woman's child from her. Even if social workers are worried, could they not simply keep a close eye on both mother and child, and take action the moment something appeared wrong? Well, no, they probably couldn't: after all, they have quotas to meet.
However, the weakness of the evidence is not the only problem with the social workers' claim. Another, even more significant, weakness is that MSBP has never been conclusively shown to exist at all. Many doctors are highly sceptical about the condition, which was discovered/invented by the infamous Roy Meadow in 1977. Meadow, who has remained its principal promulgator over the intervening thirty years, has subsequently been shown to be a charlatan quack to the satisfaction of both the judges of the Court of Appeal, and his fellow doctors in the General Medical Council, who found him guilty of serious professional misconduct. His mendacity and ineptitude while appearing as an "expert" witness in the trials of a number of women accused of murdering their babies led to several convictions being overturned, and to calls both from within and without the legal profession for a wholesale restructuring of the rules governing expert witness evidence. Should a theory which owes its very existence, let alone most of its subsequent support, to such a man as Meadow be considered anything close to a sufficient justification for removing Fran Lyon's - or any other woman's - child? Not in my opinion.
As for the social workers: they are so far beneath contempt that if they climbed for a year it would still only be a distant speck on the horizon. They appear to have systematically rejected all evidence tending to support any outcome other than removing the child, which almost makes one wonder whether some of them have a personal grudge against Ms Lyon. Pete Moore at ATW suggests that Ms Lyon and her family should prepare to use lethal force to prevent doctors or social workers from taking the child: I too believe she would be justified in doing so.