What Is "Insanity"?

Marcia Purse Health Guide
  • Yesterday the man who killed 77 people in Norway's July mass murder was found to be insane under the Norwegian legal definition of insanity, which is basically that the accused was psychotic at the time the crime was committed. Anders Breivik has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by two court psychiatrists who spent a considerable amount of time interviewing him before submitting their report.


    If the Norwegian courts agree and declare him insane, Brievik would go into a 3-year term of closed psychiatric care that can be extended as long as is needed. Norway has a legal tradition of not punishing criminals who are declared mentally ill.

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    Contrast this with the case of Jared Loughner, who shot 19 people, killing 6, in January 2011. Loughner has been declared incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness - also schizophrenia - and all the focus since then has been to put him on medications that will make him able to be tried... at a trial that would certainly focus on the question of his sanity.


    Then there is the case of Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who killed her five children. Variously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, postpartum depession and postpartum psychosis, Yates was found guilty at her first trial and sentenced to life in prison (prosecutors had sought the death penalty). The conviction was overturned, and at a second trial she was found not guilty by reason of insanity.


    I have my own opinions about each of these three cases, but when I go deeper and look at other classic cases such as those of John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer, I start to realize that my emotions are influencing my opinions.


    The law, though, shouldn't have emotions. It seems to me that Norwegian law is as consistent as United States laws are not - but it all still depends on the definition of "insanity."


    What's your opinion?


Published On: November 30, 2011