A 14 year old girl was seen in clinic after an injury whilst playing rugby. Although her description was vague, she intimated that a valgus stress had been put on her left leg and described being tackled in rugby practice. She fell on her left knee and heard an audible cracking or ‘pop’ sound, experiencing immediate pain and swelling of the joint. She had no significant past medical history and was taking no regular medication.
Phèdre is a tragedy which explores the relationship between moral culpability and responsibility for one’s actions by examining the incestuous love of a queen for her step-son, a passion that is apparently imputed to her by a vengeful deity. What is fascinating for the purposes of our discussion is the dynamic interplay between the portrayals of Phèdre’s infatuation both as an illness and simultaneously as a crime, for this is essentially the same question we must consider in deciding to what extent a malady excuses behaviour that contravenes society’s judicial expectations. While this was doubtless an intriguing consideration for a seventeenth century French dramatist, it is all the more pertinent for us today given the extent of medicalisation that has occurred in recent decades across many spheres of society. In terms of psychiatry, this may be illustrated merely with reference to the DSM, which between its first edition in 1952 and the fourth revision fifty-two years later has more than tripled the number of conditions it identifies, taking the total from 112 to more than 370 today . This inexorable rise has led certain commentators to question the extent to which this phenomenon is justified, particularly where it impinges on the realm of moral accountability. This is exemplified in an article by the sociologist Frank Furedi entitled The seven deadly personality disorders, in which he describes how all of those vices that the Catholic Church once taught to be mortal sins are now considered by Western culture to be addictive illnesses, with the sole exception of pride, which is thought to be a virtue, the helpful antidote to low self-esteem . This issue is one of eminent importance to the forensic psychiatrist, who may be obliged to stand as an expert witness and give evidence on a defendant’s mental state, potentially obviating the accusation that they had the mens rea for a crime. This is particularly the case in homicide, where mental illness can reduce a verdict from murder to manslaughter, but it is of more general significance in the verdict of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. Thus, this essay shall concern itself with a consideration of the current theories on which medico-legal practice seems to be predicated, before examining a possible alternative to this model and the congruence of this with a broader philosophical perspective, concluding with some speculation as to the implications of this concept for clinical practice and for society.
We are happy to once again be supporting the Edinburgh University Neurological Society (EUNS) for their 3rd Annual conference, to be held on Saturday 7th February, 2015.
The conference will involve keynote speakers specialising in ageing, CJD and paediatric neurosurgery, along with workshops on Surgery and Neurotrauma, Careers in Neurology and Neurosurgery, Neuroscience Lab Skills and Science Communication. There is also a poster and oral presentation session.