I'll just pause for a moment and let that news and the verdict sink in.
In the High Court in Napier yesterday [Friday] Justice Paul Heath found the mother not guilty of murdering her baby on the grounds of insanity and ordered she be detained as a special patient, as her lawyer Bill Calver had requested...The woman was "legally insane at the time," and the court concluded this provided a reason to declare her not guilty of murder.
The crown prosecutors did not challenge the five psychiatric reports presented to the court, all of which pointed to the woman being legally insane at the time.
What do you think? Do you think being insane makes you any less culpable? Do you think being declared insane by psychiatrists -- however many of them declare it -- somehow absolves someone of responsibility for their actions?
I don't. I'm all in favour of abandoning the 'insanity defence' altogether.
If you can commit murder, it might be said that at first sight that was already proof of insanity. But the main point surely is that people must be held responsibility for their actions. Drunkenness, drug-taking, PMT, post-natal depression, "my team just lost," etc. -- none of these provide an excuse for theft or assault, for beating the kids, for kicking the cat, or for bludgeoning to death your new-born son.
Allowing a defence of 'not guilty on the grounds of insanity' makes a murder victim no less dead, and is an injustice to their memory.
That said, I'm not in favour of state treatment of 'mental illnesses' either. In my view, the only reason to lock someone up is when they have committed a provable crime -- an actual initiation of force or fraud against another. In that, I'm entirely in agreement with psychiatrist Dr Thomas Szasz who in books like The Myth of Mental Illness questions the idea of mental illness altogether, and in The Therapeutic State challenges the state's role in locking people up for no more reason than having been declared "mentally ill."
In Szasz's view, there are certainly organic conditions that cause brain problems that in many cases can be cured relatively easily with medication -- and the illness then is a specific and curable physical illness, not a mental condition which is often only a symptom of the illness itself.
"True brain diseases," says Szasz, "are the province of neurologists, not psychiatrists." Labelling as "mental illness" the symptoms of an organic physical condition is as wrong as calling 'thinking problems' or 'problems with living' "illnesses," and declaring that the state can or should somehow cure or treat or lock people up for these afflictions.
As Szasz points out, such a thing is very, very dangerous indeed.
The state's only case for locking people up, says Szasz, should be for some crime they have actually committed, not for being, by the state's definition, "mentally ill." I agree with him. And murder is very much something for which they should be locked up.
You can read a good interview with Szasz here in Reason Magazine: 'Curing the Therapeutic State.'
LINKS: Baby-killing mother was insane - Hawkes Bay Today
'Curing the therapeutic state' - Reason Magazine
The Thomas Szasz Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsibility -- Thomas Szasz's official website
'The Myth of Mental Illness' - Text of the original 1960 paper that formed the basis of Szasz's first book - Psych Classics, York University
The Therapeutic State - Amazon.Com
The Myth of Mental Illness - Amazon.Com
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