Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lincoln Caplan, New York Times

Lincoln Caplan writes in today's New York Times that, "Medicine defines illness, the law responsibility. The fields long tried to resolve their differences scientifically."

In the context of mental illness and violent crime, this statement is bitter, bitter nonsense.

"Mental illness" is specifically and succinctly defined in most states' mental health and/or criminal codes. That's law. On the other hand, medicine (or at least its most relevant authority, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) makes a complete hash out of all attempts at any definition.

"Responsibility" is clearly related to response as in stimulous-response, which calls to mind a framework of experimental psychology based on principles of medicine.

So, it's possible to argue the precise opposite of Caplan's statement, i.e., "The law deines illness, medicine responsibility."

The real differences which Mr. Caplan posits between medicine and the law presumably concern relative values of cure and punishment. But psychiatrists are happy to admit they have no cure; and lawyers quickly retreat from confiscation or vengeance to such euphemisms as equity and justice. The two fields long obfuscated these issues on purpose.

Attempts to abdicate human responsibility in favor of objective science are delusional. Medicine and the law both yearn for this savior, as they once cried out to God.

Lincoln Caplan's remarks are useless. He wants to think science is good, politics are bad, the insanity defense is harmless. He wants us all really, really stupid.

No comments:

Post a Comment