Insanity and Crime
THE uneventful exit of the assassin of the late President McKinley
and the assertion that there was nothing particularly striking in
his anatomical make-up, suggest several important questions for
future consideration. The chief one is that regarding the mental
responsibility of the Anarchist or Nihilist, and what restrictive
measures should be enforced by the countries infected by his presence.
The task of determining the mental condition of these individuals
is an extremely difficult one, for the nearer we approach the border
line of insanity the harder it becomes to obtain facts and draw
A prominent specialist remarks: “There
is the difficulty, if not the actual impossibility, of determining
the precise boundary line between mental health and mental disease.
Rarely do we find in society a specimen of a perfectly normal and
harmonious adjustment of all the powers of the mind.” This faulty
adjustment is nowhere more apparent than in the cases in question,
and here, as a rule, we find anatomical variations which serve as
While Guiteau was declared sane by
several eminent specialists, the pathological findings were, to
say the least, very suggestive of impaired mental power, and were
a careful examination of the brain of the President’s assassin obtainable,
we feel sure that a pathogical [sic] cause for his action
could be demonstrated.
Another recent case in point is that
of a trained nurse of more than average intelligence who without
apparent motive, is said to have indulged in a wholesale poisoning
of her patients.
While a large proportion of our criminals
possess a faulty anatomical development, we are often called upon
to decide, simply by a personal interview, the question of mental
responsibility, and we may be asked whether a person of fair intelligence
and some education who murders indiscriminately, or who believes
in civil chaos and a reign of terror and who willingly sacrifices
his life for the advancement of such a cause, is to be considered
a rational being. Most alienists we believe, would decide in the
negative, and in the absence of a reasonable motive, would unhesitatingly
commit such a person to an asylum. At the same time, however, we
are unable to define the degree of perverted thought which converts
a vicious into an insane action.
It is important that at this time
the true status of these cases should be decided upon and that we
should classify the many dangerous members of society now existing
in this country in order that prompt and effective justice may be
meted out to them whenever occasion demands.