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The act of murder has been neglected as an object of serious scientific study. The vast majority of murder is attributable not to psychopathology, but to other motivational factors. What is your view? Outline the evidence relating to alternative motivational factors involved in murder. Discuss the above with reference to parents who murder their children.

The act of murder has been neglected as an object of serious scientific study. The vast majority of murder is attributable not to psychopathology, but to other motivational factors. What is your view? Outline the evidence relating to alternative motivational factors involved in murder. Discuss the above with reference to parents who murder their children.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Gemma Gordon. Originally submitted for Forensic Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Patricia Gill in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Gemma Gordon. Originally submitted for Forensic Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Patricia Gill in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 The act of murder has been neglected as an object of serious scientific study. The vastmajority of murder is attributable not to psychopathology, but to other motivational factors.What is your view? Outline the evidence relating to alternative motivational factors involvedin murder. Discuss the above with reference to parents who murder their children.
 
In Ireland, the phenomenon of filicide had become rooted upon Irish shores by the turn of themillennium, as twelve children were murdered; more than the accumulative number for theprevious decade (Cleary, 2001). Dramatic tragedies reported in the media detail incidentssuch as cars driven deliberately off piers, house fires immolating entire families, and filicidecommitted by drowning in the sea, yet the more subtly covert infanticide methods may leavelittle or no evidence to be detected by the forensic pathologist and other investigatingauthorities (Zumwalt & Hirsch, 1987). The violent, unnatural death of a child or children atthe hands of their parents is almost incomprehensible and difficult to rationalise, which may
contribute to the public‟s formation of a crude and fixed dichotomy of the perpetrator‟sreason for killing as „madness‟ or „badness‟(Worrell, 1990). In a BBC documentary,
a Britishwoman convicted of infanticide emphasised the inadequacy of this judgmental summation;
„in all three areas of public, legal and medical discourse, there is nothing in between, nospace for alternative, more sophisticated explanations‟ (Wheelright
, 2002).This essay shall thus examine the role of psychopathology and the posited classificationsystems of motivational factors in seeking a more refined spectrum of variables that mayintertwine to provoke, and explain, acts of filicide. By illuminating the historical and culturalcontext of child homicide, evolutionary theorists endeavour to account for its ubiquitouspresence shadowing the evolution of mankind. The problematic operational concept of murder at the interface of psychology and law is one of a plethora of limitations in the studyof filicide, borne from the fragmented body of research of isolated disciplines, whosecontributions shall be examined.The deed of murder is laden with ominous connotations and incites a plethora of emotionswithin society and individuals; it is considered to be vile, odious and the most vindictivecrime that can be committed against mankind. Few crimes evoke emotions stronger thanfilicide, which denotes the killing of a child by their parent(s), and is a multifacetedphenomenon with various causes and characteristics (Bourget, Grace & Whitehurst, 2007).This Latin term, derived from the words filius (son) and filia (daughter), symbolises a crosscultural and historical practice which remains as ubiquitous and enduring as drought, plague,flood and war in its effect on population control (Schwartz, 2007). Child murder is notnecessarily common, but it is a leading cause of child death in developed countries, with theparents as the most frequent perpetrators (Stanton & Simpson, 2002). Indeed, in the period of 2000-2005, 88% of Danish child homicide cases were filicide victims (Laursen et al., 2010).Within the rubric of filicide, child homicide can be further specified in accordance with the
victim‟s age: neonatici
de refers to the murder of the newborn child by a parent within twenty-four hours of birth (Resnick, 1970). Infanticide extends from this time to encapsulate
homicides for up to one year of the child‟s life, and has medicolegal implications as it applies
to a mother who has not fully recovered from the effects of pregnancy and lactation, and maysuffer some degree of mental disturbance (Rosenburg, 1971).
Mankind‟s heinous practice of filicide endures as a dark thread woven into the fabric of the
species, and is neither a modern phenomenon nor era-specific clandestine custom. In spite of global reprobation, neonaticide has been practiced on every continent by people of diversecultural complexity; from the hunter-gatherer to the contemporary cosmopolitan New Yorker,
 
indeed Williamson (1978) gravely claimed that „rather than being the exception, it has beenthe rule‟. Yet can such an abominable act be partially justified by an adaptive function or do
biology and morality remain irreconcilable? The tussle between the environmental demandsand fertility needs of Australian aborigines limited each female to one child, as not to hindermobility of the nomadic tribe, which resulted in the smothering of deformed children andkilling of the infant if the mother passed away in childbirth (Scheper-Hughes, 1987).Inferences from a sociobiological analysis of Indian filicide practices centred aroundenhancement and maintenance of high social status to survive adverse times, thus thesubstantial cost of dowries impeded the accumulation of wealth, and female infants werefrequently killed (Dickemann, 1979). The pervasiveness of this crime even in the most
technologically advanced societies is accounted for by Pinker‟s (1997) sociobiological
theory. The assertion that neonaticide is a means to conserve the family by sacrificing theinfant in a harsh environment is supported by the two day gap between labour and nursing(lactation), in which maternal instinct is putatively not aroused, creating an opportune timefor the infant to be abandoned or exposed. In essence, the evolutionary stance outlines a
timeless and universal motivational factor as „both biology and cultural tradition seemeddesigned to permit mothers, for a brief period, to practice infanticide‟ (Hausfater & Hrdy,
1984). However, this theory seems more appropriate for primitive peoples with unstable foodand shelter resources, and its validity is questionable in contemporary society where otherpsychological and cultural factors emerge in circumstances of relative plenty. Exceedingmere survival needs, Daly and Wilson (1984) list factors such as illegitimacy, youth of mother, stepparent households, or mental illness of the parent as more predictive of filicidetoday. Upon analysis, this theory is considered speculative in nature and fallible; it mayaccount for neonaticide but fails to provide robust motivations for the homicide of olderchildren, nor does it address the associated phenomenon of filicide-suicides which accountsfor a substantial proportion, with 16 to 29 percent of mothers and
 
40 to 60 percent of fatherswho commit filicide also terminating their own lives (Hatters Friedman et al., 2005).Within the Irish judicial system, the definition of murder fundamentally presupposes themental aspect of intention to commit the related
actus reus
, as delineated by section four of the
Criminal Justice Act 1964
, which provides: 4(1) “Where a person kills another unlawfully
the killing shall not be murder unless the accused person intended to kill, or cause seriousi
njury to, some person, whether the person actually killed or not.” Furthermore, the
mens rea
 or mental element of the offence may be deemed an elusive factor to prove within a trial; (2)
“The accused person shall be presumed to have intended the natural an
d probable
consequences of his conduct; but this presumption may be rebutted” (Law Reform
Commission, 2008). Thus by virtue of section 4(2) the test of intention is subjective, whichaccounts for problematic sentencing and moral distinction between the act of murder and theact of manslaughter. The Commission maintains that both legal divisions of killing arenecessary for appropriate labelling of criminal offences. As murder is estimated to be a moreserious offence and invokes a mandatory life sentence in Ireland (Criminal Justice Act,1990), perpetrators convicted of manslaughter are considered by society to be less culpable

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