Creative Destruction

November 28, 2006

Mum Microwaves Baby

Filed under: Ethics — Daran @ 6:37 pm

Allegedly:

Mom China Arnold, 26, stands accused of aggravated murder after bringing her dead infant daughter, Paris, to a hospital, with a “high body temperature”. The woman was arrested, and later released.

“We have reason to believe, and scientific evidence to support, that a microwave oven might have been involved in the death of this child,” Montgomery County Coroner’s Office Director Ken Betz is quoted as saying

My immediate thoughts, beyond a general sense of tragedy, are to wonder what the actual effects would be. Obviously one effect would be the same heating that results (eventually) in cooking. The temperature is raised rapidly to a depth of several centimetres through direct microwave action. Heat then conducts inward.

Unlike a meat joint, a living body will attempt to compensate. However an infant’s ability to do so is limited. Even in adults, the brain is vulnerable to even a small rise in temperature. I think death would be rapid, and would occur long before the flesh began to cook.

It’s not clear to me what other effects there would be, that might distinguish such a death from other causes. For example, it’s not clear whether the baby would suffer a skin burn, assuming microwaving no more than sufficient to cause death.

It’s also not clear to me how one would go about testing any hypotheses about the likely effects (other than the obvious unethical ways). I would be very concerned if someone were to be convicted on the basis of untested conjecture.

27 Comments »

  1. I’m starting to hate the human species.

    That said /emotion off:

    For example, it’s not clear whether the baby would suffer a skin burn, assuming microwaving no more than sufficient to cause death.

    I think they went with protein coagulation distributed unevenly (not in innermost areas) and, I presume, lack of skin burn.

    I think the fact that the baby was alive at hospital lets us conclude that the microwave exposure wasn’t very long.

    It’s also not clear to me how one would go about testing any hypotheses about the likely effects (other than the obvious unethical ways). I would be very concerned if someone were to be convicted on the basis of untested conjecture.

    Well, one could try microwaving recently dead animals. Obviously, it couldn’t account for the increase in blood circulation, but it would give a fair estimate on short term effect on tissue.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 28, 2006 @ 7:24 pm | Reply

  2. Oops. The baby was not alive. My bad.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 28, 2006 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

  3. I wish they didn’t announce this kind of news.

    Nothing in the public interest is being served here. It’s such a horrible and sad and terrible event, but on a very personal scale. The privacy of all these people is now horribly violated.

    Comment by Robert — November 28, 2006 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  4. Nothing in the public interest is being served here. It’s such a horrible and sad and terrible event, but on a very personal scale. The privacy of all these people is now horribly violated.

    I disagree. It is much easier to pretend this sort of depravity does not exist and that is why it is important to report it.

    Comment by toysoldier — November 28, 2006 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

  5. Why the bloody hell didn’t this woman just have an abortion instead of waiting until the child was born and could feel everything that she did to it and then kill it?

    Comment by Dianne — November 29, 2006 @ 5:17 pm | Reply

  6. Some scientific questions are best left unspeculated about unless you are a forensic pathologist who actually has to know.

    I can see no upside to figuring this out. Unlike knowing the effects of say, baby shaking, where an uninformed person might easily underestimate the risk, it doesn’t take any great genius to know that baby microwaving is bad.

    Comment by ohwilleke — November 29, 2006 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

  7. Why the bloody hell didn’t this woman just have an abortion instead of waiting until the child was born and could feel everything that she did to it and then kill it?

    I am unaware of any evidence suggesting the baby would not feel everything when she was aborted.

    Comment by toysoldier — November 29, 2006 @ 10:20 pm | Reply

  8. I am unaware of any evidence suggesting the baby would not feel everything when she was aborted.

    An embryo (up to 8 weeks, the time period during which the majority of abortions are performed) has essentially no working sensory neurons and no working cortical neurons. Myelination doesn’t even occur until late in the second trimester, by which time virtually all elective abortions are done. Furthermore, fetuses live in a low oxygen environment. It is known that adults lose consciousness very rapidly in low oxygen environments (ie high altitude depressurization) so it is likely that fetuses are not conscious, regardless of their neural development (though one could question this based on the higher oxygen affinity of fetal versus adult hemoglobin.) In short, the question of whether a fetus of any stage can feel pain is debatable–and is debated in the medical literature–and it is perfectly clear that an embryo can’t. A baby, on the other hand, clearly can and, in this case, clearly did.

    It did occur to me later on that perhaps this was a case of Muchausens by proxy gone wrong. Perhaps the mother simply wanted the drama of having a sick child and so attempted to induce a high temperature in the child but didn’t realize just how much tissue damage she would do. In other words, it might genuinely be assault and manslaughter, not murder. If that helps anyone’s opinion of humanity.

    Comment by Dianne — November 30, 2006 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  9. If that helps anyone’s opinion of humanity.

    Actually, no. It doesn’t.

    Then again, I have such a low opinion of humanity in general that anything short of a direct missive from Deity falls short of the mark needed to raise it by a significant factor for long enough to become habit-forming.

    Comment by Off Colfax — November 30, 2006 @ 10:08 am | Reply

  10. Dianne:

    I understood what you meant in #5, but the wording there does lead a reader to believe that babies don’t feel anything before birth.

    I also don’t think that the pain is the issue here, it is cruelty and murder (or possibly manslaughter). After all, humans ought to be considered above farm animals, where the standard is that it doesn’t matter if their life is ended, as long as it is done painlessly.

    And somehow torturing your baby to create a drama doesn’t make it seem a-ok.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 30, 2006 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  11. I understood what you meant in #5, but the wording there does lead a reader to believe that babies don’t feel anything before birth.

    I said whether fetuses could feel pain was debatable, not that it certainly wasn’t so. The literature suggests that a pre-30 week fetus definitely can’t and that it is questionable after that time. I’d prefer to err on the side of caution with respect to fetal surgery and abortion and make sure that a post-30 week fetus had analgesics, but that’s not the same as knowing for sure that they can.

    I also don’t think that the pain is the issue here, it is cruelty and murder (or possibly manslaughter).

    I’d say we were getting morbid here, but there’s really not many places worse to go with this thread so…If I were going to be murdered, I’d rather it be quick and painless than long and painful and I think there is a feeling that torturing someone to death is worse than “just” murdering them. That having been said…

    After all, humans ought to be considered above farm animals, where the standard is that it doesn’t matter if their life is ended, as long as it is done painlessly.

    Interesting comparison. As it happens, I don’t eat meat because of a feeling that it is wrong to kill animals unnecessarily. And middle class adults in western society don’t need to eat meat to survive and be healthy. Arguably, they are more healthy without. On the other hand, I have no compunction about killing lab mice if I need to to get a result that might give a person a better chance of surviving their illness some day. So in essence I agree with you that killing animals can be acceptable under certain circumstances. But where did you get the idea I was saying it was ok to kill people?

    And somehow torturing your baby to create a drama doesn’t make it seem a-ok.

    A-ok? Holy flying spaghetti monster, no! Munchausen’s by proxy parents are some of the nastiest child abusers you’ll ever run across: they don’t abuse their children because they are irritated at the child or are stressed or lose control, they do it just to get attention and sympathy. But the syndrome does exist and if this woman had it that would explain (note: not in any way justify, just explain) her behavior. Or maybe she thought she was sacrificing the child to her diety or her boyfriend did it and she’s covering for him. None of which justifies her behavior but any of which could explain why she went through the risk and suffering of having a child that she was only going to kill.

    Comment by Dianne — November 30, 2006 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  12. But the syndrome does exist and if this woman had it that would explain (note: not in any way justify, just explain) her behavior. Or maybe she thought she was sacrificing the child to her diety or her boyfriend did it and she’s covering for him.

    Or this woman simply did not like the child and wanted her to suffer before she died.

    It is not a knock against you, but I am tired of the whole blaming the boyfriend or Jesus for a mother’s cruelty. She is responsible for her own behavior. We should not excuse her of that responsibility nor should we blame others for her actions.

    Comment by toysoldier — November 30, 2006 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

  13. I said whether fetuses could feel pain was debatable, not that it certainly wasn’t so.

    Yes, you later clarified that. I’m not debating the point, I simply pointed out how the former comment may (and was) be read as.

    I’d say we were getting morbid here, but there’s really not many places worse to go with this thread so…

    Sorry. Morbid “humor” Is a psychological defense mechanism for me.

    As for the meat-eating, well, that’s bit too big issue to cover here, and somehow seems quite inappropriate considering the original…

    But where did you get the idea I was saying it was ok to kill people?

    No, I didn’t claim you said that. But from your comment, it seemed to me that your main concern was the pain.

    A-ok? Holy flying spaghetti monster, no!

    But the syndrome does exist and if this woman had it that would explain (note: not in any way justify, just explain)

    Which is why you would rather sentence her of assault and manslaughter, “just explaining, not justifying”?

    Altough it might be better if she was put to psychiatric institute instead of prison. However, I’m generally rather unsympathetic with get-away-with-murder -syndromes used as legal defense. Psychiatric treatment I still support, make of that what you will.

    None of which justifies her behavior but any of which could explain why she went through the risk and suffering of having a child that she was only going to kill.

    How do you know that she had determined to kill her child beforehand? I seriously doubt she was cackling with glee during pregnancy “Soon I will get to put the baby in the microwave oven…”

    Comment by Tuomas — November 30, 2006 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  14. Why the bloody hell didn’t this woman just have an abortion…?

    Maybe she was Pro-life.

    Comment by Daran — November 30, 2006 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

  15. Sorry. Morbid “humor” Is a psychological defense mechanism for me.

    I was severly tempted to add the “Reproductive Rights” tag to this one, but I resisted manfully.

    Comment by Daran — November 30, 2006 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  16. Or this woman simply did not like the child and wanted her to suffer before she died.

    I’m not sure that the baby would have suffered much. I know that high brain temperature is fatal, but I don’t know how quickly or painfully. It’s possible that the baby might have died before any part of its body reached the temperature required to denature protein.

    Comment by Daran — November 30, 2006 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

  17. She may not have known that. If I recall correctly, there are several urban legends about animals exploding in microwaves. Perhaps she thought that would happen.

    Comment by toysoldier — November 30, 2006 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  18. This is a rather bizarre discussion that more genteel folk wouldn’t even begin to entertain. No one (including me) is saying you should shut up, but perhaps there might be a self-imposed limit to what is possible to vomit into a public forum.

    Comment by Brutus — November 30, 2006 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

  19. Which is why you would rather sentence her of assault and manslaughter, “just explaining, not justifying”?

    If that’s what she’s guilty of then yeah. With the maximum sentence. I’m pretty sure one could get life imprisonment on this one. If she is genuinely insane then I’d like to see her to get treated. This is not niceness on my part. Suppose she went insane due to post-partum depression. With proper treatment she might come out of it and truly realize what she did. I can’t imagine that at that point she’d want to do anything but kill herself. How could someone with a normal superego live with themselves after that?

    Comment by Dianne — November 30, 2006 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

  20. The presence of a person who kills children is intolerable to any community.

    If the woman did this intentionally then she needs to be executed or imprisoned for the remainder of her life.

    If she did it out of insanity, then she needs to be institutionalized for the remainder of her life.

    I share Brutus’ discomfort with the themes of the discussion. This isn’t 7th grade.

    Comment by Robert — November 30, 2006 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

  21. Brutus and Robert:

    You guys probably shouldn’t ever eavesdrop an autopsy for educational purposes. 7th graders have nothing on the stuff that is talked there.

    But then, this may not be the place for that.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 30, 2006 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  22. I’m sure that’s true, Tuomas. The people working in those places have to deal with the emotional stress created by the job in some fashion, and gallows humor is a normal response.

    We’re not in the morgue. We have a choice.

    Comment by Robert — November 30, 2006 @ 7:34 pm | Reply

  23. If she is genuinely insane then I’d like to see her to get treated. This is not niceness on my part. Suppose she went insane due to post-partum depression. With proper treatment she might come out of it and truly realize what she did. I can’t imagine that at that point she’d want to do anything but kill herself. How could someone with a normal superego live with themselves after that?

    As a liberal, you assume that everyone is as moral as you are and has the same conscientousness.

    But then, like I said, I’m not opposed to psychiatric institutionalization and treatment.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 30, 2006 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  24. I’m sure that’s true, Tuomas. The people working in those places have to deal with the emotional stress created by the job in some fashion, and gallows humor is a normal response.

    We’re not in the morgue. We have a choice.

    duh?

    But then, this may not be the place for that.

    Where exactly is the disagreement?

    Comment by Tuomas — November 30, 2006 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  25. This is a rather bizarre discussion that more genteel folk wouldn’t even begin to entertain. No one (including me) is saying you should shut up, but perhaps there might be a self-imposed limit to what is possible to vomit into a public forum.

    I apologize. I tend to forget that everyone is not as disconnected as I am.

    Comment by toysoldier — December 1, 2006 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  26. number 1 my mom is an RN i checked with her dianne is right. number 2 if this woman did it she is a pysco but we don’t know if it is true.
    3. I f she wantede the baby to die why would she bring it to the hospital

    Comment by Marissa — December 3, 2006 @ 11:39 am | Reply

  27. By the way although she may have itno form of depression causes you to kill. That disorder is called insanity. They are completley different. The woman possibly heardvoices or something and therefor could not controlher actions, anymore then a diabetic chooses not to make insulin.

    Comment by Marissa — December 3, 2006 @ 11:41 am | Reply


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