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Mother found guilty of child abuse, fraud for making daughter sick

kathy and jennifer
Kathy, top, and Jennifer Bush  

October 7, 1999
Web posted at: 7:36 p.m. EDT (2336 GMT)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- A Florida jury Thursday found a woman guilty of intentionally making her daughter sick and forcing her to undergo more than 40 needless surgeries, in what prosecutors called a case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Sentencing is set for November 12.

Forty-two-year old Kathy Bush had been charged with aggravated child abuse and fraud for bilking thousands of dollars from the State of Florida for medical expenses incurred by her daughter, Jennifer. The mother faces up to 45 years in prison.

When the verdict was announced, Bush's 17-year-old son wept on the shoulder of a young woman, his face contorted. Neither Bush nor her husband showed any immediate response. But, as she was led out of the courtroom, Kathy Bush burst into tears.

Prosecutors claimed the woman suffered from a rare psychological disorder called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a condition in which a parent intentionally makes her child sick in order to gain sympathy and attention for herself.

By the time Jennifer was eight years old, she had spent 640 days in hospitals and had undergone more than 40 surgeries. She had had her appendix, gall bladder, and part of her intestines removed due to what doctors believed was a gastrointestinal disorder. She was fed through a feeding tube.

The girl's plight even attracted the attention of first lady Hillary Clinton, who cited her case as an example of the high cost of medical care.

In 1996, Jennifer was removed from her parents' home and has been in foster care since. Her feeding tube was removed shortly after she was taken from her parents and prosecutors say she has been living a normal life, free of hospitals and drugs, ever since. She is now 12 years old.

Defense attorneys said that Jennifer Bush's chronic illnesses were caused by genetics, and that Kathy Bush was a loving mother who did her best to care for he daughter. They said that the state presented no witnesses and that the case was a fraud and that the doctors never disputed the necessity of their surgeries.

Bush Hillary
Bush met Hillary Clinton during the health care reform debate five years ago  

"Kathy didn't do it.," argued attorney Robert Buschel. "You would have to believe she outsmarted board certified doctors."

Because the judge refused to allow prosecutors to argue the syndrome as a motive, the prosecution presented a largely circumstantial case.

Nurses and doctors testified they suspected Kathy Bush tampered with her daughter's feeding pump, and gave her unprescribed medication. One nurse testified that she once heard Jennifer yelling, "No Mommy, No," inside her hospital room.

The nurse said she entered the room and saw Jennifer's mother putting something inside the girl's mouth. But on cross examination, the nurse acknowledged that Bush could have been brushing her daughter's teeth.

Neither mother nor daughter testified during the three-month trial. Jason Bush, one of Bush's sons, did take the stand to defend his mother.

Kathy Bush will be jailed pending a hearing next Tuesday to decide whether her bond will be extended. She had been free on bond throughout the trial.

Kathy Bush and her husband, Craig, face another legal fight with the state. Florida is trying to terminate their parental rights to Jennifer in a separate court action that has not been scheduled.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

Florida woman accused of sickening child for 8 years
July 20, 1999

On Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy (MSP)
Mothers Against Munchausen syndrome by proxy Allegations
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