Source: New England Medical Monthly
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Insanity and Crime”
Date of publication: December 1901
Volume number: 20
Issue number: 12
|“Insanity and Crime.” New England Medical Monthly Dec. 1901 v20n12: p. 491.|
|anarchism (psychology of); criminals (dealing with).|
|Charles J. Guiteau; William McKinley.|
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 deductions.
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 corroborative evidence.
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.