Andrea Yates has been sentenced to life in prison for killing her five children and now the rest of her family has started the blame game. Andrea’s mother and brother both blame her husband, Russell Yates, for not doing more to help his wife get the help she needed both with her mental state and with the day-to-day job of maintaining a family of seven people. Russell, meanwhile, is thinking of suing the doctors who took his wife off of her antipsychotic medication. And every newspaper editor from one side of the country to the other has chimed in with who they think is to blame.
The truth is it doesn’t really matter anymore. The kids are dead and their mother, instead of getting the medical attention she so obviously needs, is going to spend the next 40 years of her life rotting away in a prison because she did what she thought she had to do. Neither the prosecutor nor the defense ever debated about whether or not Andrea Yates had a mental illness, but rather if she knew whether what she did was right or wrong. Apparrently the only definition of what constitutes insanity in Texas is the inability to determine right from wrong. If it can be proven you knew what you were doing was wrong then you’re sane. Andrea Yates admitted that she knew what she was doing was wrong in the eyes of the law and society, but she believed with utter conviction that she had to do it to save her children from eternal damnation.
If you accept the idea that Yates did have a mental illness that led her to believe that the souls of her children were in imminent danger from demons out for their souls then it shouldn’t too much of a leap in logic to see how she could think that killing them would ensure their place in Heaven. Think about it seriously, her actions make perfect sense in light of her twisted perception of reality. It didn’t matter to her if society or God thought it was wrong as long as her kids ended up in Heaven. Afterall, Heaven is supposed to be the end-all be-all of existence. She believed she was doing the right thing for her kids.
I will refrain from my impulse to rant about whether the belief system that could contribute to her psychosis in this way isn’t an argument for insanity in its own right. Instead I’ll just point out that whether Andrea Yates knew what she was doing was right or wrong according to the law doesn’t mean much out of context from her mental illness. Especially if her illness led her to believe it was the only right thing she could have done.