Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Ethical use of covert videoing techniques in detecting Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

British Medical Journal 1993; 307 doi: (Published 04 September 1993) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1993;307:611
  1. D M Foreman,
  2. C Farsides
  1. Department of Psychiatry, Keele University, Stoke on Trent.


    Munchausen syndrome by proxy is an especially malignant form of child abuse in which the carer (usually the mother) fabricates or exacerbates illness in the child to obtain medical attention. It can result in serious illness and even death of the child and it is difficult to detect. Some investigators have used video to monitor the carer's interaction with the child without obtaining consent--covert videoing. The technique presents several ethical problems, including exposure of the child to further abuse and a breach of trust between carer, child, and the professionals. Although covert videoing can be justified in restricted circumstances, new abuse procedures under the Children Act now seem to make its use unethical in most cases. Sufficient evidence should mostly be obtained from separation of the child and carer or videoing with consent to enable action to be taken to protect the child under an assessment order. If the new statutory instruments prove ineffective in Munchausen syndrome by proxy covert videoing may need to be re-evaluated.