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Something is rotten in the state of Virginia.

A 21-year-old woman there, accused of deliberately microwaving her
month-old son to death, was just found “competent” by a “medical expert” to
face trial on Murder 1 charges.

However, her April 28 trial has been postponed until results are in from
a separate independent neurological evaluation, and now the judge is
bemoaning the exam’s “snail’s pace.”

But here’s the kicker, reported by the Hampton Roads Daily Press: “Authorities
investigated whether (she) put her baby in the microwave because of
epileptic seizures that left her disoriented. (She) took medication for
epilepsy.”

Let me get this straight. First off, this woman had a BRAIN ABNORMALITY
– which is what epilepsy is — and authorities DON’T believe her
perceptions of reality – i.e., right and wrong, –could have been distorted,
or at least altered? And secondly, knowing what we know about side-effects
of pharmaceuticals like psychotropic drugs — rage, suicide, murderous
impulses — they’re not seriously questioning the impact of her epilepsy
medication?

OK, so they’re not even wondering, What did she think she was doing
when she put the baby in the microwave and turned it on — making dinner for
the child’s father?

Hey, this is America, where we’ve had a murder trial not-guilty verdict
trial hinge upon the “Twinkie Defense,” wherein a guy can kill
a politician and wiggle out of a murder charge because his lawyer comes up
with the excuse he ate too many Hostess Twinkies?

Fair is fair. If Twinkies are considered to lead to lethal consequences
– or at least diminished capacity — so should epilepsy medication.

Epilepsy is often managed
with a drug named Dilantin, which, besides side effects including mental
confusion, staggering gait, slurred speech, can also “lower cognitive
functioning about 10 IQ points,” explains psychologist Ellen W. “Dilantin.”
She says it “is also often used in conjunction with phenobarbitol, which may
disorient if overdosed,” and suggests that Tegretol, another drug used to
treat epilepsy instead of dilantin, has fewer cognitive side effects. And
yet, I see
listed: “behavioral changes; confusion, agitation, or hostility; headache
(continuing); unusual drowsiness; difficulty in speaking or slurred speech;
mental depression with restlessness and nervousness or other mood or mental
changes; ringing, buzzing, or other unexplained sounds in the ears;
trembling; uncontrolled body movements; visual hallucinations (seeing things
that are not there).”

“The woman may have been mentally ill as well or post head-trauma,” Dr.
W. adds. “Whatever she is, it is a tragedy the child was in her care.”

And yet, the case itself strains at the margins of credulity. “This
sounds like yet another urban legend!! I bet there are lots of really sick
jokes already about this one!” says Philadelphia psychotherapist Pam L.

Sounds like an urban legend, but isn’t. I saw the Virginia newspaper’s
photographs.

However, in
Salon,
where thinking mothers apparently need compelling reasons to justify ceding
care of their kids to a nearly unending stream of nannies and au pairs,
anthropologist Sara Blaffer Hrdy insists there’s no such automatic, built-in
thing as maternal instinct. How convenient.

Hrdy, in her 752-page toe-breaker, “Mother Nature: A History of Mothers,
Infants, and Natural Selection,” cites Canadian studies showing younger
women being more likely to commit infanticide, especially in a relationship
with a male other than the child’s father.

No, most mothers don’t murder their children. When they do, something is
really rotten with the state, or their state. Instead, a mother might
murder herself.

Way back in 1963, famous poet Sylvia
Plath,
a brilliant and tormented 30-year-old mother of two young kids, wronged wife
of the dastardly Ted Hughes, a fellow
poet — took her own life by
sticking her head inside the kitchen oven and turning on the gas.

In what became hyped as “the most tragic literary love story of our
time,” Plath’s husband Hughes had abandoned her for another woman, Assia
Wevill, who, astonishingly enough, subsequently also killed herself by
putting her head into a gas oven six years later.

Clearly, Sylvia Plath’s suicide could be a classic demonstration of the
truism, depression is anger turned inward. Weevill, of course, was a
copycat, Plath wannabe, and a slut for scarfing up marital leftovers.

A “girl, interrupted” for her time, Sylvia Plath was dogged by mental
illness
and
emotional disarray throughout her brief life. Beginning in adolescence, she
had been institutionalized, therapized, even received electro-shock therapy
as prelude to writing “The Bell Jar,” a gut-wrenching narrative of her bout
of teenage insanity amidst such vast youthful intellectual promise — she
had been a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine after winning their poetry
contest.

Meanwhile, for precision’s sake, here’s an informational post-script for
the Virginia judge bemoaning the “snail’s pace” of events. While gastropods
do not exactly gallop, an intrepid scientist named Voltzow
found in
1992-94 that they can hoof it at least twice as fast as your typical
judicial proceedings:

“Ventrally, the snail’s body is formed into a foot used in locomotion. In
the smaller forms, locomotion is mostly accomplished by the beating of a
layer of microscopic cilia under the bottom of the foot. Ciliary locomotion
may be quite rapid — I timed a snail about 1 inch long that moved 100 feet
along a survey line in 30 minutes. The larger species move mostly by
muscular action. In these animals the foot is filled with many muscular
strands oriented in different directions. The animals that move by muscular
action generally move at the proverbial ‘snail’s pace.’”

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