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Murder, Medicine and Motherhood

By: Emma Cunliffe
Media of Murder, Medicine and Motherhood
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Published: 27-05-2011
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 246
ISBN: 9781849461573
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £55.00
Online price : £49.50
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Loren Epson

About Murder, Medicine and Motherhood

Since the early 1990s, unexplained infant death has been reformulated as a criminal justice problem within many western societies. This shift has produced wrongful convictions in more than one jurisdiction. This book uses a detailed case study of the murder trial and appeals of Kathleen Folbigg to examine the pragmatics of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It explores how legal process, medical knowledge and expectations of motherhood work together when a mother is charged with killing infants who have died in mysterious circumstances. The author argues that Folbigg, who remains in prison, was wrongly convicted.

The book also employs Folbigg's trial and appeals to consider what lessons courts have learned from prior wrongful convictions, such as those of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings. The author's research demonstrates that the Folbigg court was misled about the state of medical knowledge regarding infant death, and that the case proceeded on the incorrect assumption that behavioural and scientific evidence provided independent proofs of guilt. Individual chapters critically assess the relationships between medical research and expert testimony; the operation of unexamined cultural assumptions about good mothering; and the manner in which contested cases are reported by the press as overwhelming.

Table Of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Folbigg Case
3. Unexplained Infant Death: A Shifting Theory of Maternal Culpability
4. Distinguishing Homicide from SIDS
5. The Scientific Case against Folbigg
6. A Mother Who Would Kill Her Children
7. Reading Guilt: Kathleen Folbigg's Diaries
8. Media Monster
9. Conclusion


“ engaging and scholarly read” –  Tracey Elliott, Medical Law Review

“...Cunliffe lays out her book in a manner that makes it extremely readable and an ideal reference source for anyone performing ongoing research about infanticide...She performs meticulous research...and boldly asserts her interpretation of the data while leaving her audience with enough information to disagree with her findings and draw different conclusions...The result is a persuasive and enlightening work with the potential to foster honest dialogue and deter baseless stereotyping in the research and investigation of unexplained infant deaths and adolescent motherhood...Her conclusions are broad enough to apply to readers in any location, and the implications of her research are too important to ignore.” –  Julie Spain, Journal of Youth and Adolescence

“If Professor Emma Cunliffe...had been Kathleen Folbigg's lawyer on appeal, Folbigg likely would not be serving thirty years in prison in New South Wales, for the murder of her four children. Cunliffe is convinced that Folbigg was wrongly convicted; and, by the end of Murder, Medicine and Motherhood, so, I would guess, would most readers be.
...Cunliffe's book is an exhaustive examination of the Folbigg trial, and, more importantly, of the medical, evidentiary, and journalistic context within which the trial played out. Never sensationalistic, Cunliffe treats the tragedy of the unexplained deaths of four children with sensitivity [and] the analysis she brings to the Folbigg case ... is so astute and powerful
” –  Renee Ann Cramer, Law and Politics Book Review

“The book is a fascinating and precise study of how law and science come to 'know' through legal processes...The book unfolds over seven tightly conceived, substantive chapters, with a separate introduction and conclusion. At just over 200 pages, this is not a long book but given the depth and breadth of the research, each word makes an important and very accessible contribution to the understandings of legal and scientific knowledge in the courtroom.” –  Doris Buss, Punishment & Society

“[The book] is a tour de force, with analysis of the trial transcripts, the medical literature on sudden infant death syndrome, and the media coverage of the trial. What really impressed me about this book Is the depth and meticulousness of Emma's research… she is a methodical and careful scholar who combs the transcript and the literature for the ambiguities in the evidence and the testimony.
Emma's book has much to teach police investigators, lawyers, judges, and the medical profession about how subtle, yet compelling, gender ideologies are to the detriment of mothers.
[The book] makes invaluable contributions to legal knowledge, advocacy, and method, not the least of which is the book's use of trial transcripts to explore the construction of guilt by police, lawyers, experts, lay witnesses, judges, and the media. Emma's work is foundational for those legal scholars working with, and thinking about, transcripts… I am tremendously inspired by her book.

” –  Elizabeth Sheehy and Christine Boyle, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

“While this book arose from Cunliffe's doctoral dissertation, its application is far beyond legal studies. This is largely because she so aptly followed the tenets of sound case study research, which involved the analysis of various sources of data...and sources of literature...The text is comprehensive, inter-disciplinary, incredibly well researched, and logically persuasive. As such, it will be attractive to several audiences, including legal scholars and law students (especially those aspiring towards criminal litigation); criminologists, sociologists and political scientists; as well as perhaps health/medical professionals and gender/women's studies scholars.” –  Angela M Moe, Theoretical Criminology

“Whilst certainly presenting a compelling argument, Cunliffe writes in very measured tones, taking care not to romanticize or victimize Folbigg, but rather highlighting the precarious nature of her conviction. She sensibly makes no glib statements as to Kathleen's innocence but rather very honestly reflects that she was wrongly convicted, as despite several appeals there remains too much uncertainty to draw firm conclusions – particularly conclusions that are 'beyond reasonable doubt', in order to justify the denial of liberty.
...the aim of the book is not necessarily to resolve all of the aforementioned issues but rather to highlight, discuss and deconstruct them. It satisfyingly draws all of the themes together serving as a stark warning against the oversimplification of science in law, and also a remainder that science is not an infallible source of truth.
” –  Sarah Singh, Social & Legal Studies

“Cunliffe's book offers an important and original contribution to discourses on wrongful conviction and the dynamics of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
...the book is well written and moves effortlessly across disciplinary boundaries taking in law, medical research and expert opinion, feminist discourse, and the media. It will provide a welcome addition to the reading list of law and journalism students and other actors interested or involved in the criminal justice system.
” –  Siôn Jenkins, Journal of Law and Society

“...a valuable read for lawyers, academics and others interested in the Folbigg case for two main reasons. First, it unpacks medical and social understandings around SIDS, and its evolving conceptualisation in the socio-legal context. Second, it draws together disparate threads relevant in filicide literature, and critically assesses assumptions in law (on criminal guilt) and medicine (scientific certainty) and gendered presumptions in parenthood ideals.” –  Janice Sim, Current Issues in Criminal Justice

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