The most chilling and horrific aspect of the Andrea Yates case is the gruesome and unimaginable terror of the last hour of her five children's lives.
But a close second is the specter of Andrea and Russell Yates conceiving two more children while Andrea was suffering from such severe mental illness.
In their opening statements at her trial a week ago, both the prosecution and defense outlined Yates' harrowing history of depression, psychosis, visual and auditory delusions, suicide attempts, and stays in mental hospitals — including being yanked on and off of any number and combination of powerful anti-psychotic drugs.
But the Yateses kept having kids. There have been reports suggesting that the Yateses' religious beliefs prevented them from using birth control and prioritized procreation. Just after the murders, Russell Yates made statements to the effect that he and his wife had decided to accept whatever children God sent them.
But Andrea Yates was not accepting these children. Her body was producing a chemical rejection so powerful it plummeted her into madness. Still, Russell Yates continued to impregnate his wife.
The youngest Yates child, an infant named Mary, was conceived just months after Andrea was released from a mental hospital and was responding to drug therapy. Russell Yates interpreted his wife's fragile recovery to be a sign that procreation should resume. He has stated that he "begged" for help for his wife and was let down by the medical community, but at least one doctor advised Andrea Yates not to conceive any more children. The help that Russell Yates could have provided — some self-control if birth control was not an option — he was either unwilling or unable to provide.
If Andrea Yates was too mentally ill to understand the risks of conceiving more children, shouldn't Russell have been capable of sounder judgment?
Andrea's mental problems were triggered by child birth. Why weren't her doctors writing a prescription for birth control pills along with her prescriptions for Haldol and Adavan? Why didn't her doctors or relatives notify social services that five children were in the care of a suicidal and dangerously depressed woman and a father who didn't appear to grasp the severity of the problem? Was either Yates a fit parent?
The Yateses seemed never to consider how the care and well-being of their existing children — dependent on an unstable mother — would be compromised if the birth of future children triggered another episode of psychosis in their mother — which it did. Who was home schooling the Yateses' school-age children when Andrea was in and out of mental facilities? How much home schooling was she squeezing in between caring for her infant and her dying father?
These are uncomfortable issues. No one wants to criticize a family's religious convictions, question an individual's reproductive decisions or suggest that children should not have been conceived. Feminists have already been excoriated, and deservedly so, for inanely trying to explain Andrea Yates' actions as an extreme, but darkly understandable, reaction to, and indictment of, the pressures of stay-at-home motherhood.
But there also seems to be a suspect agenda at work in the camp calling for Yates to be dealt her share of Texas justice. You can't help but get the feeling someone wants us talking about the legal definition of insanity because they don't want us talking about religion, birth control, home schooling and the father's culpability.
Both agendas get it wrong. Andrea Yates did not become mentally ill because she was home schooling four of her children while simultaneously caring for an infant and a father dying of Alzheimer's disease. She should not have been home schooling her older children, caring for a sick father or giving birth to a new baby because she was seriously mentally ill.
Acknowledging that Yates was failed miserably by her doctors, her relatives and her husband does not excuse her actions. It's just that the saddest part of the Yates tragedy is that there were so many chances and opportunities to prevent it.
The scariest part of the tragedy, though, is that there is no way to prevent it from happening again. Doctors can't force people to use birth control or to stop conceiving children. As much as the case could be made that the Yateses' judgment made them unfit parents and a danger to their children, making that case brings the state into the private quarters of family life where the state does not belong.
Andrea's mental state and Russell's denial of, or contribution to, her condition may have in fact made them unfit parents. But that argument could be used to stigmatize any parent who seeks any type of psychological therapy.
Meanwhile, does anyone really believe that a woman similarly tortured as Yates will, in the midst of her psychotic break, recall Yates' execution and snap out of it? Does anyone really believe that a harried stay-at-home mom will look at any leniency shown Yates and see an easy way out?
If Andrea Yates was flying aboard a crashing airplane with her kids, she would have been instructed to secure her own oxygen mask before her children's. She would not be able to save them if she did not first save herself. The Yates family seemed to think that their children could survive the nosedive their family was in with their mother dysfunctional.
They seemed to have prioritized the "lives" of future children over the life of the mother and the care of the existing kids. The children that the Yateses perhaps should have prevented themselves from conceiving because of the mother's mental health are now dead because of the mother's mental health. Regardless of what penalty Andrea Yates ultimately pays for her crime or what precedents are set about post-partum depression and psychosis, the case does prove beyond any reasonable doubt that children are only as well off as their mothers.
We can't blame the circumstances of Andrea Yates' life for her actions or her mental state, but we shouldn't be silenced from pointing out that there was something wrong with those circumstances, something wrong about Russell Yates. We didn't even need Andrea Yates to know that if a mother's life or well-being is compromised, endangered or devalued, the children dependent on her are doomed to the same, and often horribly worse, fate.
Robin Wallace is the Views Editor at FOXNews.com.