Parental Alienation: A 'Mythical Legal Argument'
By Peter Jamison, Thu., May 19 2011 @ 2:18PM
PAS: Mad science?
Slate published an excellent story this week on the battle over whether to include the theory of "Parental Alienation Syndrome" in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Like almost every other informed and disinterested observer who has assessed the validity of PAS, Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick takes a very dim view of the theory.
She also gracefully articulates the many reasons that the theory, as currently used as "scientific evidence" in family courts across the country, is pernicious. In a March cover story, SF Weekly described how PAS -- and its virtually identical variant, "Parental Alienation" or PA -- can be used by abusive fathers to win custody of children from protective mothers.
The theory of Parental Alienation, a term coined by the late pedophilia apologist Richard Gardner, posits that mothers maliciously brainwash their children to hold delusions of sexual abuse at the hands of an estranged father. As described by its adherents, PAS is probably the only supposed psychiatric condition that arises solely in the context of divorce proceedings, one of many reasons that reputable scientific and medical organizations such as the American Medical Association don't recognize it.
As Lithwick puts it:
... no hypothesis so rooted in gender bias should be credited by medical science. And because evidence of PAS is so frequently offered to counter maternal allegations of abuse, the experts testifying about PAS can be aiding and abetting a system that takes children from abused mothers and hands them right back to abusive fathers. Once again, this doesn't mean that some parents don't alienate their children in a divorce. It means that PAS is now used to discredit women whenever they claim abuse.
Of course, despite its tenuous scientific credentials, PAS has become the dominant psychological paradigm of the family-court system. The word "syndrome" is often deliberately omitted so that litigants arguing that the condition exists can avoid the unsavory connotations of the theory's origins, and most particularly its founder, Gardner, who argued that "pedophilia has been considered the norm by the vast majority of individuals in the history of the world."
Lithwick's conclusion: "While nobody was looking, a mythical legal argument known as parental alienation may have already taken over family courts."
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