Jun 19 2009

The Price of Superstition

Published by under autism
Comments: 17

I hate reading these stories – A Haitian woman is accused of burning her own daughter, 6 year old  Frantzcia Lauradin, in a ritual designed to purify her of demons. The child’s grandmother did eventually put out the fire, while the mother ignored her child’s screams of agony, but then allegedly put her to bed rather than take her to a hospital.

Only after a day of begging by relatives was she eventually taken to the ER, where she was found to have 2nd and 3rd degree burns on 25% of her body, including part of her face.


The mother, Marie Lauradin, is denying the charges, saying she accidentally spilled some boiling rice on her daughter and did not notice the burns until she was in the ER. As reported, that defense is not credible – a mother not noticing severe burns on her daughter’s face? Such burns would cause someone to scream in agony, making it impossible, in my opinion, to justify the delay in bringing the child to medical attention.

Of course, when I hear of such things I always have to wonder about the sanity of the person accused. Some might say that anyone who could do such a thing to their own child must be crazy – but it is more complicated than that. Extreme ideological beliefs can twist logic and motivate people into extreme actions. This is different from someone who has a brain disorder that makes what the average person would consider logic and reasoning impossible for them.

It’s not possible to judge in this case, with the information provided. That is something the courts will decide.

And as always, to the extent that the mother is mentally ill, this case is just sad and tragic. Then guilt would fall mainly on the grandmother for allowing their mentally ill child to be responsible for their own child. Delaying going to medical attention not only makes the grandmother complicit to a degree, but suggests that she is accustomed to covering up for her daughter, or perhaps is in denial.

However, if mental illness is not in the picture, then this is yet another cautionary tale of the harm that can come when extreme ideology replaces reason and common sense.

17 responses so far

17 thoughts on “The Price of Superstition”

  1. Eve Weisshaupt says:

    Might things like this not also be a function of statistics?

    The membership of any self-identified group will likely always have a certain percentage of less than perfectly rational people.

    As long as the group remains small, the number of nuts is limited. When the group grows, however, so does the fringe, and sooner or later, someone will suffer.

    So even if most “woo-doo” adherents are reasonably pragmatic and functionally sane and just don’t do all the crazy things they believe in, bad stuff will eventually happen when the creed comes into fashion. Or population booms.

    Extreme ideas only make it harder to dissuade oneself and others from acting on even more extreme ideas.

  2. HHC says:

    Jeff Cohen, attorney is using a weak defense for the criminal behavior of the mother. It makes sense in his legal world that this mother had only one daughter and would not harm her. But this makes no sense what so ever to the common person. This economically poor immigrant was living with her child and the grandmother in a basement. The news story reveals that there was sustained animosity toward the child by the mother. As with typical criminally abusive parents, the child complied with the behaviors inflicted upon her by adults. This was not the first aversive treatment the mother inflicted upon the daughter. The Haitian ritual was described, but Haiti used to be a French colony, and they should have laws protecting children. The lack of laws and enforcement in another country is not an excuse to allow these rituals to continue in Queens.
    The mother’s behavior was stoic at the trial where bail was set. Is she not guilty by reason of insanity? Doubtful, its a legal fiction. Is she guilty but mentally ill? Possibly, but a court examiner will have to determine it. She is culpable for her battery? I would say yes.

  3. Calli Arcale says:

    I doubt very much that mental illness is involved, though I would expect the courts to do due dilligence on that and make sure the mother isn’t nuts. The complicity of her grandmother suggests that they both believed firmly that burning the child was in her best interests — but were smart enough to realize that society would have a different opinion on the matter, and so they’d have to cover it up to avoid having the child taken away from them.

    They probably realized at some point that the ritual was causing more harm than good, but were afraid of being arrested. The fear of people finding out was more important to them than relieving their daughter’s terrible agony.


    Of course, someone who believes in demon possession probably isn’t very sympathetic to their child to begin with. Most such cases are a case of seeing their child behave in some manner different from what the parent desires and then concluding that this isn’t really their child. Given the neighbors’ account of the brutal punishment they gave the child on other occasions, this seems very likely to me. They didn’t know how to love their child, and instead terrorized the child until, in desperation, decided it must not be their child at all but a demon in possession of the perfect child they wanted.

    I wonder what will scar the girl more — the pain, or the knowledge that her mother was so fundamentally disappointed in her that she believed she wasn’t even her child?

  4. HHC says:

    Calli Arcale, I’m glad you brought up the best interests of the child issue. This case warrants permanent placement of the child in foster care or whereever the state deems the best placement. The child would benefit from a psychological evaluation and intervention.

  5. trulyorganic says:

    There has been recent convictions over a similar case in New Zealand.


    A young woman drowned during an two day exorcism when water was poured down her throat. The really scary thing is that the family really believed what they were doing would help her.

    It is hard to believe that people can be so ignorant.

  6. Rogue Medic says:

    Even more sad is that many of these abused children are reported to blame themselves for their abuse. If only they had behaved better, if only . . . .

    A good book about the cases dealt with by NYC Emergency Children’s Services is worth reading, but very dark, is Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children at Risk: A Caseworker’s Story

  7. HHC says:

    trulyorganic, Nice article. I would conclude that the family’s theft caused them to lash out at an innocent to silence her.

  8. If my memory of previous researches serves, I believe the witch burnings in Salem MA and in Europe were done not to punish, but to save the ‘witch’ by cleansing the soul before commendment to Heaven, that is, they felt they were doing these ‘witches’ a favor in th eonly way available within their religious beliefs and practices.

    Though this sort of thinking isn’t codeified as a mental illness, it certainly is a type of delusion. One could imagine psychiatric designation, something like Communally Reinforced Delusional Disorder.

  9. HHC says:

    DevilsAdvocate, Sometimes the church “cleansing” rituals were based on economic interests and members used it to their economic advantage. Studies of the Salem, MA area reveal the deceased lands were appropriated by the community, and the land was highly desirable.

    With regards to your new suggested disorder, may I simply remind you that lynching could be a community project.

  10. DLC says:

    Gee. another case of crazy superstition causing injury or death.
    nothin new there. I could wish it were otherwise, however.

  11. HHC says:

    Did you know that during the Inquisition the executioners as well as the victims before death were given chocolate? In, fact Michael Coe of Yale does provide an excellent history of chocolate as part of cleansing rirtuals within the Catholic church and its usage throughout the history of civilization.:-)

  12. Calli Arcale says:

    DevilsAdvocate, I’m not sure it would make sense to classify it as a delusion when a community believes in witchcraft. They are not exhibiting any faulty mental processing — their faculties are intact. That’s what’s so scary, because it means the same thing could happen again quite easily. The problem is that they have become convinced of something which is not true.

    I think a distinction needs to be made between “insanity” and “screwing up royally”. I’m not a fan of moral relativism, but at the same time, we need to understand that these people are *normal*. They’re not nuts. They arrived at their conclusions through what seems like a sensible course of thinking. Consider the remote African tribe which not only believes in witches (as demons who enter a person’s body, kill the mind, and then inhabit it themselves), but believes the best remedy is to kill the witch and eat its body? They are not insane. They’re just wrong.

    The reason we need to make that distinction is so that we keep aware of how easily we ourselves could be led into a similarly horrific mistake. Are we that different from this woman? I remember, as a child, being restrained by several nurses so that an allergy test could be performed on me. I hated it passionately. It was torturous, and as a small child, I didn’t fully understand the need for it. But it was definitely for my best interests, because it let them discover that the cat was why I was suddenly so sick, but the dog was not — therefore, they could evict the correct pet from the household.

    Really, the only things that separate us from these people are a) a good education and b) critical thinking. Critical thinking really does save lives, because it lets you stop when you’re about to cause your child pain and think “okay, is this *really* necessary?” Some people have never been exposed to critical thinking, and so they don’t ask that question of things that they’ve been raised to believe are unquestionably true. (In short, unlike good critical thinkers, they don’t realize that *nothing* is beyond question.)

  13. HHC says:

    It was painful to learn that some primitive male tribesmen would have the right to kill babies which they believed were evil. I remember one relatively recent cable National Geograhpic program that showed how the tribesman had killed a healthy child because he did not like the way the teeth formed in the child’s mouth. He killed the only chiild of the poor female member of the tribe. Her grief was great because of tribal superstition.

  14. Calli Arcale says:

    Sounds a lot like the ancient Greeks. It was common practice (at least among urban-dwelling Greeks) to abandon “defective” infants on the hillside. Sometimes, their ankles would be pierced to speed their deaths. (I don’t know why they couldn’t just kill the children outright, but there must have been a reason.)

    So I don’t think this is a very uncommon belief. I imagine that in primitive conditions, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that with limited resources, those least likely to help the community should be sacrificed. We like to consider people as being of equal worth, but with a hardscrabble life, how easily would we ourselves start evaluating the worth of other people? Is a skilled hunter worth more to the community than a sickly newborn, for instance?

    Elaborate rituals to rid a person of demons may have developed partly in response to such thinking. “If I make him well, he’ll be useful to the community, and then they’ll let him live.” In such a scenario, it’s easier to see how one might think it’s in the child’s best interests to do something like this, since the alternative may actually be worse.

    To some extent, we actually do this in our own community. It’s just less visible because the consequences aren’t somebody starving to death or being bludgeoned in their sleep (usually). It’s usually more a matter of the less “worthy” person getting excluded from various social circles because they are less useful as a friend in terms of positioning oneself socially.

    And then, when we see our own children having trouble fitting in, we take pains to correct their behavior. I wonder how much of the current surge in child psychiatry (as well as pediatric cosmetic surgery and even some of the more strenuous summer camps) is down to parents attempting to do something to “fix” their child so that others won’t look down on them for having a “defective” child, and how much is really to benefit the child.

    Summer camp can be awesome, of course: I don’t mean to rag on it. But I have seen parents send their kids off just to get the kid out of the way for a while, or in hopes that the counselors will beat some sense into the kid (e.g. boot camp). The motives are sometimes questionable, though the result is rarely as tragic as the story in the OP. In some cases, the difference may only be one of degree.

  15. HHC says:

    Calli Arcale, I was thinking about your miserable allergy testing as a child. I voluntarily underwent it as an adult. I was allergic to all dander of animals according to their tests. I went ahead bought and raised pedigree cats. I learned to desensitize myself and breathe through the asthmatic crises. I wonder if your parents decision to remove your cat and not the dog was based on their preferences for animals.

  16. HHC says:

    By the way, did you know that monks were tortured and killed in European history for admitting to kissing the cat?

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